Malinowski and The Creation of Functionalism

Essay by jsrsg1University, Bachelor's February 2004

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Bronislaw Malinowski was born in Krakow, Poland on April 7, 1884. He was born into an aristocratic and cultured family. Due to the wealth of Malinowski's family he was able to acquire a vast education that so many of his time were not able to receive. Using this education, Malinowski worked many years in the field doing research and studding his numerous hypotheses. After years of studying and doing intensive fieldwork, Malinowski became an influential British anthropologist and the founder of the Functional theory.

Putting his education and practical experience from his fieldwork, Malinowski developed the idea of functionalism, being the belief that all components of a society interlock to from a well-balanced system dependent on the other components to function properly (Sopot 118). He emphasized characteristics of beliefs, ceremonies, customs, institutions, religion, ritual and sexual taboos.

Mailinowski's first field study came in 1915-18 when he studied the Trobriand Islanders of New Guinea in the southwest Pacific (Fraser viii).

He rejected the idea of remaining apart from the daily lives of the Trobrianders, and instead chose to carry out the participant observation method. He closely observed the Trobrianders in there daily lives doing such tasks as listing to anecdotes, local gossip, daily chores etc. It was his hope that by taking an active role in the daily lives of the Trobriand people he would be able to provide a much fuller account of the lives these people led.

Taking the active role that he did, Malinowski observed how the customs, ideas, artifacts and language of the islanders all served their biological and psychological needs, and he soon learned that the seemingly useless customs and rituals (e.g. boat-building and seafaring) did the same (Sopot 87). Using this knowledge, Malinowski began to build the idea that all aspects of culture are...