Bronislaw Malinowski


Biography of Bronislaw Malinowski

Bronisław Kasper Malinowski (1884–1942) was a Polish-born British-naturalized anthropologist, one of the most important 20th-century anthropologists.

From 1910, Malinowski studied exchange and economics at the London School of Economics under Seligman and Westermarck, analysing patterns of exchange in aboriginal Australia through ethnographic documents. In 1914 he was given a chance to travel to New Guinea accompanying anthropologist R. R. Marett, but as war broke out and Malinowski was an Austrian subject, and thereby an enemy of the British commonwealth, he was unable to travel back to England. The Australian government nonetheless provided him with permission and funds to undertake ethnographic work within their territories and Malinowski chose to go to the Trobriand Islands, in Melanesia where he stayed for several years, studying the indigenous culture. Upon his return to England after the war he published his main work Argonauts of the Western Pacific which established him as one of the most important anthropologists in Europe of that time. He took posts as lecturer and later as a chair in Anthropology at the LSE, attracting large numbers of students and exerting great influence on the development of British Social Anthropology. Among his students in this period were such prominent anthropologists as Raymond Firth, E.E. Evans-Pritchard, Hortense Powdermaker, Edmund Leach and Meyer Fortes. From 1933 he visited several American universities and when the second World War broke out he decided to stay there, taking an appointment at Yale. Here he stayed the remainder of his life, also influencing a generation of American anthropologists.

His ethnography of the Trobriand Islands described the complex institution of the Kula ring, and became foundational for subsequent theories of reciprocity and exchange. He was also widely regarded as an eminent fieldworker and his texts regarding the anthropological field methods were foundational to early anthropology, for example coining the term participatory observation. His approach to social theory was a brand of functionalism emphasizing how social and cultural institutions serve basic human needs, a perspective opposed to Radcliffe-Brown's structural functionalism that emphasized the ways in which social institutions function in relation to society as a whole.

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