Anthropology Fieldwork Essay

Anthropology Fieldwork Essay-61
‘Truly I lack real character.’ [Nie jestem naprawdę prawdziwym charakterm].With these words, written on 18 July 1918, Polish-born Bronislaw Malinowski abruptly ended the intimate diary that he kept during his final stint of fieldwork in the Trobriand Islands of eastern New Guinea.Against his daughters’ wishes, however, and to the dismay of many colleagues who had heard rumours of its controversial contents, his widow published a translation under the title (Routledge 1967).

‘Truly I lack real character.’ [Nie jestem naprawdę prawdziwym charakterm].With these words, written on 18 July 1918, Polish-born Bronislaw Malinowski abruptly ended the intimate diary that he kept during his final stint of fieldwork in the Trobriand Islands of eastern New Guinea.Against his daughters’ wishes, however, and to the dismay of many colleagues who had heard rumours of its controversial contents, his widow published a translation under the title (Routledge 1967).

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Marching under a self-styled theoretical banner of Functionalism, Malinowski revolutionized fieldwork methods, cultivated an innovative style of ethnographic writing, and mounted polemical assaults on a wide array of academic disputes and public issues.

By the time of his death, aged 58, in the United States in 1942 he was a controversial international celebrity, a cosmopolitan humanist who dedicated his final years to the ideological battle against Nazi totalitarianism.

The essential rule, he emphasized, was to study the ‘tribal culture in all its aspects’, making no distinction ‘between what is commonplace, drab or ordinary’ and what may seem novel, astonishing or sensational.

The ethnographer’s main task is to observe and describe customs in their everyday social contexts and to elicit people’s explanations for their own behaviour.

The ‘Ethnographer’ of his books is a somewhat outlandish character (‘a Savage Pole’ in one guise) who never allows his reader to forget that not only was he present at the scene as a participant observer, but that he is also the one, in a fully contextualized first-person sense, who is doing the writing.

Malinowski’s ethnographic persona – curious, patient, empathetic yet ironic – was given a tentative outing in his first ethnographic report, , ‘the writer is his own chronicler,’ he reminds us, and scolds those whose works offer ‘wholesale generalizations’ without informing the reader ‘by what actual experiences the writers have reached their conclusion’.

Last year saw the works of Bronislaw Malinowski – father of modern anthropology – enter the public domain in many countries around the world.

Young explores the personal crisis plaguing the Polish-born anthropologist at the end of his first major stint of ethnographic immersion in the Trobriand Islands, a period of self-doubt glimpsed through entries in his diary – the most infamous, most nakedly honest document in the annals of social anthropology.

Although Freudians did not take kindly to this interpretation, Malinowski triggered a debate which continues to this day.

(1929) is a long and detailed ethnography of Trobriand family life: courtship, marriage, divorce and death, pregnancy and childbirth. Needless to say, it was a pioneering study of human sexuality and of the social and cultural factors which shape it.

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