Bronislaw Malinowski: Understanding Cultures and Cultural Change.
Featured Image: Bronislaw Malinowski (1884-1942), Professor of Anthropology. By Library of the London School of Economics and Political Science, No restrictions, via Wikimedia Commons.
Bronislaw Malinowski (1884-1942) whose birth anniversary we note on 7 April was a leading professor of anthroplogy at the London School of Economics during the 1920s and 1930s. He was to do six months of field work in the Trobriand Islands of what is now New Guinea in 1914. He was there when the First World War broke out, and he feared that if he returned to England, he might be arrested as an “enemy alien”.
Malinowski was born in Cracow in today’s Poland but at the time was part of the Austrian empire. He had studied and received a doctorat at Jagrellonian University where his father was a professor , and then gone to teach in England.
Argonauts of the Western Pacific.
Thus rather than six months in the Trobriand Islands, he stayed from 1914 to 1919 when he returned to England. There he wrote “Argonauts of the Western Pacific”, published in 1922, which created a new style of participant observation in anthroploogy.
However, Bronislaw Malinowski wanted to build a new model of social anthropology to meet some of the basic problems facing humanity. His emphasis was on how society is structured to meet the basic needs of the individual. Malinowski helped to make the London School of Economics a leading English institution for anthroplogy. He had as students people who became well known in the field.
As a leading teacher of anthroplogy, Bronislaw Malinowski was asked by the British government to carry out studies on social change in the British colonies of Africa as well as in South Africa. He had Jomo Kenyatta, who became the Kenyan nationalist leader, as a student.
P.M. LEVY ESHKOL AND KENYA PRESIDENT JOMO KENYATTA AT STATE HOUSE IN NAIROBI, KENYA (1966). By Photography department – Government Press Office, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.
Malinowski spoke German and was always interested by German thought. Thus he followed with deep concern the rise of Nazi power in Germany and then Austria. He wrote:
“The ethics pervade the teaching and the line of action of Nazism are the glorification of force at the expense of justice; the exaltation of war as against peace; the gospel of preparedness for destruction as against negotiation at the council table. The Nazi faith is a pragmatic doctrine of spiritual and physical aggression; a dogma of arrogance and superiority. It produces a recrystalization of society on one principle and toward one end, that of war.”
Malinowski’s writings on totalitarism were published by his wife after his death as “Freedom and Civilization”. He had died in the USA in 1942 at the age of 58 while teaching at Yale University.
Today, the understanding of the ways that culture shapes politics and socio-economic change is a vital need. Bronislaw Malinowski remains an important guide.
Bronislaw Malinowski, Preface by Sir James G. Frazer, Argonauts of the western Pacific; an account of native enterprise and adventure in the archipelagoes of Melanesian New Guinea. By Bronislaw Malinowski, Preface by Sir James G. Frazer, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.
René Wadlow, President, Association of World Citizens.