A Scientific Theory of Culture and Other Essays by Bronislaw Malinowski - With a Pref by Huntington Cairns (1960).pdf

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With a Preface by Huntington Cairns
New York
Copyright 1944 by The University of North Carolina Press
First published, 1944
First published as a Galaxy Book,
by arrangement with The University of North Carolina Press, 1960
Second Printing, 1961
is both a summing up and a reformulation
of Professor Bronislaw Malinowski's functional theory of
culture. Some of its ideas in embryonic form may be found
on the first page of his first book, published more than
thirty years ago; others, at least in their developments, are
new. Altogether the work presents the mature views in a
field of great importance of one of the most brilliant and
influential anthropologists who has appeared in the history
of that subject. Those views, as they are here set forth, are
the product of fierce controversy. Their lot has thus been
the happiest that can befall ideas: they have been subjected
to the minute scrutiny of experts attached to rival positions.
That they have withstood, except for minor modifications,
the analysis they have undergone is evidence of their
Bronislaw Malinowski was born in Cracow, Poland, on
April 7, 1884. His first training was in mathematics and
the physical sciences; the results of this discipline are
clearly apparent in his sure grasp of the basic elements of
scientific method. At the same time he remained free from
the dogmatism usually associated with the study of the
exact sciences. His interests were diverted to cultural an-
thropology by Wilhelm Wundt. Although his basic field-
work was done in New Guinea and Northwestern Mela-
nesia, particularly in the Trobriand Islands, he also spent
briefer intervals with some Australian tribes, the Hopi of
Arizona, the Bemba and Chagga of East Africa and the
Zapotec of Mexico. Early encouragement came to him from
scholars of
distinctly encyclopaedic approach—Wundt,
Westermarck, Hobhouse, Frazer, Ellis—but his own prac-
tice was in the strictest accord with the contemporary
a meticulous knowledge of the
whole life of individual tribes. His absorption of the cul-
ture of the Trobrianders was probably as complete as is
possible for any field investigation, and was conducted with
full benefit of modern methods, which include a knowledge
of the language and controls in the form of actual illustra-
tions for all general statements obtained from the natives.
From that preoccupation with the life of the Trobrianders
emerged the great series of volumes in which their life is
depicted in all its complexity. As he pointed out, he, like
every empirical worker in any branch of science, had to see
what appeared to him the general and universal in the
range of facts which he observed. But he always urged that
the final decision as to the validity, throughout the whole
range of sociological phenomena, of his general views,
based as they were on his specific knowledge of the Tro-
brianders, could only be determined after those conclu-
sions had been tested in all the enthnographic areas still
open to observation.
Side by side with the prosecution of his exceptionally
thorough field-work he had an unremitting concern with
the development of theory. He had something of Plato's
admiration for the beauty inherent in the perfection of an
ordered body of propositions. Theory satisfied that ''inde-
pendent hunger of the mind" which leads in the end to
knowledge. He also saw theory in its practical aspects, not
only as the instrument which enabled the field-worker to
anticipate his solutions, but, in the modern logical view, as
explanation. He never tired of insisting that the great need
in anthropology was for more theoretical analysis, particu-
larly analysis born from actual contact with natives. In that
aspect theory was the instrument which allowed inquiry to
be something more than a mere fumbling with multitudi-
nous possibilities; it was an indispensable guide to the
field-worker in the selection of facts; it was a necessary ele-
ment in any sound descriptive science. But culture as a
whole, no less than the particular tribal practice, stood
need of explanation. He
was convinced
that cultural
phenomena were not the consequence of capricious inven-
tiveness or simple borrowing, but were determined by basic
needs and the possibilities of satisfying them. This func-
tional concept, he held, accounted for variety and differen-
tiation, as well as for the common measure in the variety.
The present volume is his last sustained elaboration of that
Professor Malinowski died on May 16, 1942. At the re-
quest of Mrs. Bronislaw Malinowska I undertook to see
the manuscript through the press. Fortunately, Professor
Malinowski himself had revised the typed manuscript as
far as 200 and I was thus able to confine corrections to
typographical and other obvious errors. Professor Mali-
nowski's basic approach is clarified further by the inclusion
in this volume of two hitherto unpublished essays. I am in-
debted to Mrs. Bronislaw Malinowska and Mr. Blake
Eggen for their assistance in the preparation of the book
for publication.
Washington, D. C.
February 15, 1944
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