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Bronislaw Kasper Malinowski: Bio-bibliography Essay

A British anthropologist born in Krakow, Poland, Bronislaw Kasper Malinowsky left his mark in anthropological studies around the world. Throughout his career, Bronislaw dedicated his time to developing methods that dominated preceding anthropological fieldwork. Malinowski is most famously known for founding Social Anthropology and the idea of functionalism. (See Notable Names Data Base, The) Bronislaw Malinowski was born April 7, 1884 to mother, Jozefa, and father, Lucjan Malinowski. Lucian was a professor of Slavic philology at Jagellonian University in Southern Poland. Bronislaw’s mother, born Jozefa Kacka, married Lucjan at the age of 35 in 1883. Although she did not hold any place in the academic world, like her husband, she was part of a family that owned land and held a certain high-ranking status in society. (See Notable Names Data Base, The – Bronislaw Malinowski and Wayne, Helena pg.529) When Bronislaw was 14 years old his father died of a heart attack at the age of 58 leaving him under his mother’s care. “.

The family had been living on Cracow University grounds, but widow and son had to leave this home and thereafter lived in various flats in central Cracow. They were always rather hard up. A professor’s pension was not very generous: there was, however, some family money.” (See Wayne, Helena pg. 530) As a child, Malinowski attended Krakow’s King John Sobieski public school. He went by the nickname, Bronio. His mother’s side of the family being more maternal than his father’s side, Malinowski spent a lot of time with the Kacka cousins. Throughout his years at the public school, and later on during his college career, Malinowski always had a very gangly body structure and often was sickly looking. Due to poor health, Malinowski frequently had to take time off from school to slow down and not get worse.

Malinowski had incredibly bad eyesight and it progressively got worse to the point where he was threatened with blindness. (See Wayne, Helena pg. 530 and Notable Names Data Base, The – Bronislaw Malinowski) While attending Jagellonian University, during one of his health breaks, Bronislaw Malinowski came across the work of a British Anthropologist, Sir James Frazer (2). Frazer’s work, The Golden Bough, sparked Malinowski’s interest in primitive peoples and about human cultures and society (1). Malinowski’s original focus at the college was mathematics and physics. He later decided to broaden his education by studying philosophy and psychology. After receiving his PhD in Philosophy, Physics, and Mathematics in 1908, Malinowski went on to study physical chemistry at Leipzig University in Germany. Then finally, ended his academic studies at the London School of Economics. This is where he received his DSc in 1913 and also earned his PhD in Science in 1913. (See Notable Names Data Base, The – Sir James Frazer, Bronislaw Malinowski) After college, Malinowsky traveled to New Guinea, Australia, and Melanesia.

Where he began his early field expeditions and began his well-known work on the Trobriand Islanders. Malinowsky studied their marriages, trade, and their religious practices. Malinowski found it just as important to observe the people he was studying during their everyday lives as opposed to simply asking the different cultures questions. Malinowski had the idea that people, while under a study, have the tendency to lie in order to give the examiner what they want to hear. It was by observing cultures going about their lives as usual that Malinowski discovered that many previous discoveries made by other anthropologists, such as Lewis Henry Morgan and Sir James Frazer, were very incorrect.

These other anthropologists committed a proverbial crime, known today sweeping generalizations. Malinowski discovered that in order to obtain factual and accurate data on other cultures, an anthropologists couldn’t rightfully assume that because one or two cultures have the same characteristic then a similar culture will also hold that same characteristic. This finding also disproved Sigmund Freud’s Oedipal Complex theory. Malinowski’s practice with extended fieldwork changed the game of anthropology forever. (See Notable Names Data Base, The – Bronislaw Malinowski)

With Malinowski’s new approach to fieldwork study, he discovered that these “savage” cultures were actually more civilized than they had been given credit for in the past. “For example, tribal marriage and religious practices, no matter how strange or exotic, revealed themselves to be an integral part of the healthy functioning of the community, playing vital roles in trade, community cohesion, and social stability.” (See Notable Names Data Base, The – Bronislaw Malinowski)

Along with his groundbreaking discoveries in fieldwork methods, Malinowski better known for his introduction to the idea of functionalism. Functionalism is “a theory stressing the importance of interdependence among all behavior patterns and institutions within a social system to its long-term survival.” In other words, people in a society require the social structure in order to function as an individual. (See Free Dictionary – Functionalism) Malinowski’s idea of functionalism was branched from Radcliffe Brown’s, another British anthropologist, similar idea called structural functionalism. “Malinowski meanwhile placed greater emphasis on the actions of the individual: how the individual’s needs were served by society’s institutions, customary practices and beliefs, and how the psychology of those individuals might lead them to generate change.” (See Notable Names Data Base, The – Bronislaw Malinowski) Malinowski married twice.

His first marriage was to Elsie Rosaline Masson in 1919. Together they had three children, all girls. Eslie passed away in 1935 after a long illness . Five year later, he married for a second and final time to Anna Valetta Hayman-Joyce, a painter, in 1940. Malinowski did not have any more children. Despite being in ill health in 1940, Malinowski continued to do field work. He had begun a new study; “a study of marketing among the Zapotec of Oaxaca.” Mid-study, Malinowsky died of a heart attack, just as his father had, on May 16 1942 leaving behind his successful contribution to anthropology. (See Encyclopedia – Bronislaw Malinowski)

In today’s American society, we are taught that every race and culture is equal. Bronislaw Malinowski taught us this by pointing out cultures’ same differences. For example, one culture may turn to magic or sacrificial practices to overcome evil while an American culture might pray to a higher, unknown power. These may seem like two different extremes but they are equally a practice of religion to help cope with uncontrollable forces of the universe.

I found it very werwinteresting that, although this may seem like common sense to people today, there was one person who was able to destroy sweeping generalizations and the idea of a “savage” culture. With over fifty successful pieces of work, and seventeen published books, Malinowski had four books that were his best known: Argonauts of the Western Pacific (1922), Crime and Custom in Savage Society (1926), The Sexual Life of Savages in North-Western Melanesia (1929), and finally, published after his death, Magic, Science, and Religion and Other Essays (1948). (See Notable Names Data Base, The – Bronislaw Malinowski)

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