Kula, Malinowski, And Bendict Essay

1141 words - 5 pages

The field of cultural anthropology studies civilization and humans as members of society. Therefore, anthropology is not an exact science. Research is constantly being conducted and analyzed to expand our knowledge and ideas. Anthropologists have different perspectives on culture and have various ideas about how research should be conducted as well. More importantly, anthropologists have different theoretical ideas based on their approach to research and their findings. Some anthropologists who formed their theories a century ago are still an important part of anthropological thought today. Two of these anthropologists, Bronislaw Malinowski and Ruth Benedict, are well-known and inspire modern anthropology. However, they have vastly different notions about how to conduct research and their theories are worlds apart.
In 1915, Bronislaw Malinowski traveled to the Trobriand Islands and completed two years of ethnographic fieldwork (McGee & Warms, 2008). There he discovered the Kula, an exchange system of ornamental jewelry amongst men in various villages and islands, known as the Kula ring. Each man receives a bracelet or a necklace, keeps it for short time, and then passes it on to one of his partners, who gives him the opposite item in exchange. This extensive, well-ordered system relies on many rules and regulations, such as the direction of exchange, who can exchange with whom, and the duration of the ownership, all of which keep the exchange running smoothly and continuously (Malinowski, 1922). However, this jewelry has no practical use or value, “they are merely possessed for the sake of possession itself, and the ownership of them with the ensuing renown is the main source of their value,” Malinowski (1922) explains. One of the functions of the Kula is that it creates a network of relationships that unites the men who exchange these gifts between each other. This establishes a special bond that lasts a lifetime, one that implies mutual duties and privileges (Malinowski, 1922). The Kula also functions to create relationships among the tribes of the different islands within the Kula ring. Malinowski (1922) says, “Another important pursuit inextricable bound up with the Kula is that of the secondary trade. Voyaging off to far-off countries, endowed with natural resources unknown in their own homes, the Kula sailors return each time richly laden with these, the spoils of their enterprise.” This allows villages hundreds of miles apart to give gifts and trade valuable goods. Therefore, the ultimate function of the Kula is to establish pleasant relations that benefit the various tribes as well as the individual members.
Bronislaw Malinowski’s work in the Trobriand Islands introduced a new approach to ethnographic fieldwork that is used in modern anthropological research today. In particular, he established the practice of participant-observation, in which a researcher lives within the society but remains an observer (Hoey, 2011). The goal of...

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