Bronislaw Malinowski (1884 - 1942)

Bronislaw Malinowski (1884 - 1942)

Bronislaw Malinowski was born in Krakow, Poland on April 7, 1884 to Lucyan and Jozefa Malinowski. He came from an upper-class family that was very cultured and had deep scholarly interests. Through the acquisition of an outstanding education and many years of fieldwork, he became a very influential British anthropologist and the founder of Functionalism. 

Malinowski received his Ph.D. in Philosophy, Physics, and Mathematics from the University of Krakow in 1908. In 1913, he lectured at the London School of Economics where he earned his Ph.D. in Science in 1916. It was there that he read The Golden Bough by Sir James Frazer and sparked his interest in anthropology.

Malinowski founded the field of Social Anthropology known as Functionalism, holding the belief that all components of society interlock to form a well-balanced system. He emphasized characteristics of beliefs, ceremonies, customs, institutions, religion, ritual and sexual taboos. His New York Times obituary named him an "integrator of ten thousand cultural characteristics" (Parker, p. 118).

Malinowski�s first field study came in 1915-18 when he studied the Trobriand Islanders of New Guinea in the southwest Pacific. He used a holistic approach in studying the native�s social interactions including the annual Kula Ring Exchange, finding it to be associated with magic, religion, kinship and trade. He contributed to a cross-cultural study of psychology through his observations of the relationships of kinship. Malinowski also discovered evidence to discredit Sigmund Freud�s theory of the Oedipus Complex in the lives of the Trobianders, by proving that individual psychology depends on cultural context. He wrote a book about his fieldwork and experiences entitled Argonauts of the Western Pacific (1922).

Other fieldwork included travel to Africa, where in 1934 Malinowski and Radcliffe Brown brought together a generation of anthropologists who documented African tribal societies through excellent fieldwork. He also visited the Oaxaca Valley of Mexico from 1941-42. One of Malinowski's major achievements was a satisfactory integration of cultural theory with psychological science. Not only did he view culture as a system of collective habits, but also he repeatedly emphasized its instrumental character. "The functional view of culture lays down the principle that in every type of civilization, every custom, material object, idea and belief fulfills some vital function, has some task to accomplish, represents an indispensable part with a working whole" (Kardiner 1961). Malinowski died on May 14, 1942 in New Haven, Connecticut. 

Books by Malinowski include: The Trobriand Islands (1915), Argonauts of the Western Pacific (1922), The Scientific Theory of Culture (1922), Posthumous Books, Magic, Science, and Religion (1948), The Dynamics of Culture Change (1961).


Kardiner and Preble, They Studied Man, 1961.

Kottak, Conrad, Phillip. Anthropology The Exploration of Human Diversity, Seventh Edition. The McGraw Hill Companies, Inc. United States, 1997, pp 14,15, 26, 29. 

Malinowski, Bronislaw. Argonauts of the Western Pacific. E.P. Dutton & Co. Inc.:New York, 1922.

Parker, Franklin. The McGraw Hill Encyclopedia of World Biography. The McGraw Hill Company Inc.: United States, 1973,Vol 7, pp 117, 118.

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