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- For the Olympic champion athlete see Bronislaw Malinowski (athlete).
Bronisław Kasper Malinowski (April 7, 1884 – May 16, 1942) was a Polish anthropologist widely considered to be one of the most important anthropologists of the twentieth century because of his pioneering work on ethnographic fieldwork, the study of reciprocity, and his detailed contribution to the study of Melanesia.
Malinowski was born in Kraków, Poland to an upper-middle class family. His father was a professor and his mother the daughter of a land-owning family. He was a frail child and often suffered from ill-health as a child, but excelled in school. He received a doctorate from Jagiellonian University in 1908, where he focused on mathematics and physical sciences. He spent the next two years at Leipzing University, where he was influenced by Wilhelm Wundt and his theories of folk psychology. These then led Malinowski on to develop an interest in anthropology. At the time, James Frazer and other British authors were amongst the most well-known anthropologists, and so Malinowski traveled to England to study at the London School of Economics in 1910.
In 1914 he traveled to Papua (in what would later become Papua New Guinea) where he conducted fieldwork at Mailu and then, more famously, in the Trobriand Islands. He made several field trips to this area, some of which were extended to avoid the difficulties of emigrating from an Australian colony during the First World War. It was during this period that he conducted his fieldwork on kula.
By 1922 Malinowski had earned a doctorate of science in anthropology and was teaching at the London School of Economics. In that year his book Argonauts of the Western Pacific was published. The book was universally regarded as a masterpiece and Malinowski became one of the best known anthropologists in the world. For the next three decades Malinowski would establish the LSE as one of Britain's greatest centers of anthropology. He would train many students, including students from Britain's colonies who would go on to become important figures in their home countries.
Malinowski taught intermittently in the United States, and when the war broke during one of these trips he remained in the country, taking up a position at Yale University, where he remained until his death.
Ideas and Achievements
Malinowski is often remembered as the first researcher to bring anthropology 'off the verandah'. Previous anthropologists had conducted fieldwork through structured interviews and did not mix with their research subjects in day-to-day life. Malinowksi emphasized the importance of detailed participant observation and argued that anthropologists must have daily contact with their informants if they were to adequately record the "imponderabilia of everyday life" that were so important to understanding a different culture. His study of Kula was also vital to the development of an anthropological theory of reciprocity, and his material from the Trobriands was extensively discussed in Marcel Mauss's seminal essay The Gift. Malinowski also originated the school of social anthropology known as functionalism. In contrast to Radcliffe-Brown's structure-functionalism , Malinowski argued that culture functioned to meet the needs of individuals rather than society as a whole.
- London School of Economics
- University of London
- Cornell University
- Harvard University
- Yale University
- The Trobriand Islands (1915)
- Argonauts of the Western Pacific (1922)
- The Scientific Theory of Culture (1922)
- The Sexual Life of Savages in North-Western Melanesia (1929)
- Coral Gardens and Their Magic: A Study of the Methods of Tilling the Soil and of Agricultural Rites in the Trobriand Islands (1935)
- Magic, Science, and Religion (1948)
- The Dynamics of Culture Change (1961)
- A Diary In the Strictest Sense of the Term(1967)
Sources and further reading
- Malinowski : Odyssey of an Anthropologist, 1884-1920. By Michael Young. Yale University Press, 2004.
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