Bronislaw Malinowski has made important contributions to the field of anthropology, especially during the discipline’s formative years. Though qualified to be an economist, he brought his best intellectual resources to bear on anthropological study, beginning with studying social exchange patterns among Australian aborigines. Born in Poland in 1884, Malinowski made vital anthropological discoveries either side of the Great War. When the dust settled after the war and the academe came to normalcy, he published his classic work Argonauts of the Western Pacific, which had garnered him acclaim from the professional niche as well as the general public. In the documentary videos related to Malinowski perused for this essay, one could see his powers of observation and synthesis. The rest of this essay will summarize the importance of the man and his works to the field of cultural anthropology.
Malinowski’s ethnography of the Trobriand Islands made an immediate impact on anthropological circles. His description of the officialdom and hierarchy under Kula ring went on to become a cornerstone work in the realm of cultural anthropology. He paid particular attention to the operation of reciprocity and exchange in social groups. A key to his success is his sense of adventure, which is a pre-requisite to anyone involved in fieldwork. Along with Margaret Mead, Malinowski can be said to have pioneered and mastered fieldwork for anthropological projects. The methods employed by him for fieldwork, including ‘participatory observation’, are now established as fundamental to anthropological research. (Cravens, 2010, p.301)
It is a symbol of Bronislaw Malinowski’s scholarly fame that many eminent anthropologists from his next generation took his tutelage and guidance. These included Hortense Powdermaker, Meyer Fortes, Raymond Firth, etc. Firth, in particular, had gone on to write detailed treatises on Malinowski’s works. Malinowski’s legend continues to hold firm even today, though later evolution in anthropological thought has affected it a little.
“He has continued to be a great name in anthropology. But while his reputation as a superb field-worker has been maintained, his fame as a really great teacher in the Socratic tradition has been allowed to fade, and his achievement in creating a new and enduring approach to anthropology has not been properly understood. Without him, the aridities of the Kulturkreislehre and the fantasies of pan-Egyptianism would doubtless have in due course been corrected and overcome. But for the younger generation of anthropologists in Europe, at least, he fought that battle and won it by the end of the ‘twenties’.” (Troy, 1998, p.129)