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Malinowski And The Creation Of Functionalism

923 words - 4 pages

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 functional in that they fulfill the biological and psychological needs of humans, now known as Functionalism. He continued to argue that the existence of customs, social institutions, and social relations should be interpreted in terms of their function (Fraser x).One of the rituals performed by the Trobrianders was the "Kula exchange", a recurring exchange of gifts between the different inhabitants of the Trobriand Islands chain. The Kula exchange involved members of the society making dangerous trips across the seas in craved-out canoes in order to exchange these gifts. To Malinowski, like countless others around the world, the Kula exchange or Potlatch form that we now of in Alaska, might have seemed odd. But Malinowski learned that it fit into the idea of functionalism, as this ritual was considered very important, worthwhile and sacred because it fulfilled the islanders' social and psychological needs. There were many rituals that had to be preformed before the carved-out canoes could ever leave the island. These rituals also preformed vital roles to...

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