Bronislaw Malinowski biography and Contributions

Polish-born social anthropologist Bronislaw Kaspar Malinowski 1884-1942 who started his career or training in 1910 based in England. He is considered to be one of the most important anthropologists of the 20th century. His methodological innovations and scientific activities he became one of the finest contributors to the speculative anthropology in the field modern science of man. He played a part the information of the contemporary British school anthropologist as a fieldworker, a scholar, a theorist and a magnificent teacher and lecturer.

bronislaw malinowski biography

He was an accomplished polemicist he influenced vast audience into the knowledge field of anthropology. In his view, anthropology was science oriented to which theory requires a search for general laws based upon empirical research to systematic observation to detailed analyses or actual behavior of living and societies. Most of his principal fieldwork was carried by the PapuoMalenesian people of Trobriand island located off the coast of New Guinea.

Malinowski’s major interest was in the study of culture as a universal phenomenon and developed in a methodological frame which needs the systematic study of specific cultures and then conducts cross culture comparison. He entirely was against the speculative reconstruction of evolutionist and diffusionist and also against the atomistic treatment of traits and its complexes were torn out from their cultural contexts. In “The Dynamics of Culture Change” 1945 he insisted cultural change must be subjected to observation and analyses of the interactive situation.


Malinowski in the study of culture acted as an originator of a functionalist approach. The function is the key idea throughout his work from his initial insightful research on an Australian native family to his final theoretical statement in a scientific theory of culture. The term was used as an exploratory and subject of ceaseless change. Malinowski believed culture to be a collection of ancient items and traditions through which people are shaped and social groups maintain its integration.

According to his view, functionalism was ab examination instrument, the essential for field work and for comparative analysis phenomena in different cultures. It allowed investigation in the parts of cultures and the examination of culture from top to bottom. In the middle of the road investigation of organizations, functionalist approach uncovered the multilayered connections between a man as psychobiological living beings, culture.


Malinowski explained different patterns of occasions with solid people as members focusing on the relative soundness of institutions and communities, without demanding an abstract system or model of family relationship or kinship.

Malinowski in critique to Radcliffe Brown stated: “oversimplification of a complex system has been the bane of these simple models of classificatory kinship.”

Malinowski believed there is a horizontal relationship between different institutions. For instance, kinship cannot be explained separately from economics and economics from politics etc.

Malinowski on Magic, science, and religion

according to Malinowski religion satisfies an integrative need. He attempted to see subjects free from intellectual and emotional prejudices.  He accepted dual reality concept. There is the reality of the natural world which is in built in observations and rational processes that takes to mastery and then come supernatural reality which is built upon emotional and psychological needs that give birth to faith. Malinowski got science not from magic but by man’s capability to gather knowledge, as displayed by Tobriand specialized skills of gardening, building ships etc. opposite to it, Malinowski believed magic coexisted with these abilities as an organized reaction to the feeling of impediment notwithstanding threat and dissatisfaction. He explained and separated between magic and religion by defining a magic system as pragmatic in their points and religious framework as self-fulfilling rituals. For example around life emergencies. He divided between the individual character of religious experience and social religious customs. He gave no explanation but as an evidence, he linked myth to magic and religion with the authenticity of a magical act and religious creed.

Anthropology and Psychology

In his entire career, Malinowski followed a systematic psychology with which he used yo establish a relationship between man and culture. Somewhere around in 1920 Freudian theory had a significant. It somewhat diffused and affected his reasoning. Anthropologist Meyer Fortes has pointed Freud’s theory on Oedipal situation facilitated Malinowski with psychological information for building his own analysis of the relationship between father, son and maternal uncle in Trobriand culture. But in later times he inclined against psychoanalysis, he published “The Psychology of Sex” 1923, “Psychoanalysis and Anthropology” 1924, “The Father in Primitive Psychology 1927, The Sexual Life of Savages 1929 in which he put up the earlier material, in which he shows he made creative use of psychoanalytic logic. He faced few difficulties in transformation psychological process into cultural processes. Malinowski always derived culture from man’s need and gradually importance to tradition as a primary influence in molding an individual. Last few years him being at Yale gravitated by Hullian learning theory affected him a little in terms of his core thinking.

Some of the most known works of Malinowski are:

  1. The economic aspect of the Intichiuma Ceremonies (1912)
  2. The Family Among the Australian Aborigines (1913)
  3. Primitive Religion and forms of Social Structure (1915)
  4. Fishing in the Traditional islands (1918)
  5. Kula: The circulating Exchange of Valuables in Archipelagoes of Eastern New Guinea (1920)
  6. The Role of myth in Life (1926)


In simple words, Malinowski goes against the idea of reconstructing the past.

Malinowski judge from the case of Trobriand Islanders to all traditional societies.

According to him, we can always come up with some functional justification of particular actions in terms of their needs. But society does things which are productive for humans or that are going as a custom and might not be having a particular function.

We need to simply understand that there is nothing unique about anthropological ways of differentiating things and knowledge. The different group of people has their own way of understanding things. Therefore cultural knowledge systems typically combine all the components that Malinowski needed to separate for his analytic requirements as magic, science, and religion.


“Malinowski, Bronislaw.” World Encyclopedia. Retrieved November 01, 2017 from

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