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Summary Article: Malinowski, Bronisław Kasper (1884-1942)
from Biographical Dictionary of Anthropologists

Bronisław Malinowski is widely recognized as the founder of the school of social anthropology known as functionalism, principally associated with field studies of the peoples of Oceania. He helped transform speculative anthropology into a modern science of man. Born in Kraków, Poland, Malinowski gained a Ph.D. in philosophy, physics and mathematics (1908) from Jagiellonian University, Krakow. He studied at the London School of Economics from 1910, where anthropology had been recently established as a discipline. He gained a D.Sc. in anthropology from the University of London (1916).

He was a reader in anthropology, University of London (1924); professor, University of London (1927); lecturer, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York (1933); and Bishop Museum Visiting Professor of Anthropology, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut. In 1936 he received an honorary doctor of science degree at the Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts tercentenary celebrations.

Inspired by Sir James Frazer's (see entry) Golden Bough, Malinowski decided on anthropology as a career. He did fieldwork in Mailu, New Guinea (1914-1915); Trobriand Island, New Guinea (1916, 1917-1918); and Oaxaca, Mexico (1940, 1941). Malinowski developed what came to be known as “participant observation.” He lived in the community of the people he was studying, learned their language and culture, became aware of their beliefs, ceremonies, customs, institutions, religion, ritual and sexual taboos, and in so doing was able to present a realistic picture of their society. He maintained that only in this way would anthropologists get anywhere near understanding other cultures.

He examined a wide range of cultural aspects and institutions, challenging existing propositions on kinship and marriage, exchange, and ritual. In his work with the Trobianders, Malinowski found evidence to discredit Sigmund Freud's theory of the Oedipus complex by proving that individual psychology depends on cultural context. In the 1930s he was closely associated with the International African Institute and visited students working among several tribes in eastern and southern Africa. He wrote the introduction to Jomo Kenyatta's book Facing Mount Kenya (London: Secker and Warburg, 1938), prepared as a diploma thesis under Malinowski's supervision. (Kenyatta became president of Kenya in 1964.) Over three decades Malinowski established the London School of Economics as one of Britain's greatest centers of anthropology.

Sources and Selected Publications
  • Biographical Dictionary of Social and Cultural Anthropology, edited by Vered, Amit, published by Routledge, 2004.
  • Minnesota State University, Mankato,
  • Oxford Dictionary of National Biography Online,
  • Malinowski, Bronisław. Sex and Repression in Savage Society. Routledge London, 1927. Taylor and Francis Books London, Routledge, 2001.
  • Malinowski, Bronisław; James Frazer (Designer). Argonauts of the Western Pacific. Routledge London, 1934. Waveland Press Long Grove, Ill., 1984.
  • Malinowski, Bronisław. A Scientific Theory of Culture. University of North Carolina Press Chapel Hill, 1944.
  • Malinowski, Bronisław; Robert Redfield (Editor). Magic, Science and Religion and Other Essays. Doubleday Garden City, N.Y., 1948. R.A. Kessinger Whitefish, Mont., 2004.
  • Malinowski, Bronisław. Family Among Australian Aborigines. Schocken New York, 1963.
  • © 2009 Louis J. Palmer, Jr. and Xueyan Z. Palmer

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