Partner Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz

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Evergreen Cemetery, New Haven, Connecticut, United States

Bronislawmalinowski.jpgBronisław Kasper Malinowski (7 April 1884 – 16 May 1942) was an anthropologist whose writings on ethnography, social theory, and field research were a lasting influence on the discipline of anthropology.[1][2][3][4][5]

Malinowski was born on 7 April 1884, in Kraków, then part of the Austro-Hungarian province known as the Kingdom of Galicia and Lodomeria, to an upper-middle-class Polish family. His father was a professor, and his mother was the daughter of a landowning family. As a child he was frail, often suffering from ill health, yet he excelled academically.

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Malinowski and Witkiewicz

Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz was close friends with composer Karol Szymanowski and, from childhood, with Bronisław Malinowski and Zofia Romer. Malinowski and Witkiewicz were close friends by 1900, judging from an early letter from Witkacy's father to his son. Malinowski, the future emigré, must have been identified by his friends as an anglophile from a rather young age, as is suggested by his English nickname "Lord Douglas," used as early as sixteen. Witkacy is never called "Oscar" but the absent reference suggests a likely identification with the well known British playwright. Among the first surviving texts produced from the Witkacy's friendship with Malinowski is a photograph of the pair taken in 1902 or 1903 in Zakopane. They lived together as students in Cracow during 1905 and 1906. Romer was romantically linked to both Malinowski and Witkiewicz.

In 1908, Malinowski received a doctorate in philosophy from Kraków's Jagiellonian University, where he focused on mathematics and the physical sciences. While attending the university he became ill and, while recuperating, decided to be an anthropologist as a result of reading James Frazer's The Golden Bough. This book turned his interest to ethnology, which he pursued at the University of Leipzig, where he studied under economist Karl Bücher and psychologist Wilhelm Wundt. In 1910, he went to England, studying at the London School of Economics under C. G. Seligman and Edvard Westermarck.

From 1910, Malinowski studied exchange and economics at the London School of Economics (LSE) under Charles Gabriel Seligman and Edvard Alexander Westermarck, analysing patterns of exchange in Aboriginal Australia through ethnographic documents.

Malinowski returned to Zakopane for part of 1912. According to Micińska Witkiewicz represented himself as the character Bungo and Malinowski as the Duke of Nevermore.[3] The unfinished novel, which was not published until 1972, also describes erotic encounters between Bungo and the Duke of Nevermore.[4]

In 1914 there was a crisis in Witkiewicz's personal life due to the suicide of his fiancée Jadwiga Janczewska, because of a suspicion on her part that Witkiewicz was involved in a homosexual relationship. Witkiewicz blamed himself and to prevent his own suicide, was invited by Malinowski to act as draftsman and photographer on his anthropological expedition to the then Territory of Papua,[5] accompanying anthropologist Robert Ranulph Marett, by way of Ceylon and Australia. The venture that was interrupted by the onset of World War I. After quarrelling with Malinowski in Australia, Witkiewicz who was by birth a subject of the Russian Empire, travelled to St Petersburg (then Petrograd) from Sydney and was commissioned as an officer in the Pavlovsky Regiment of the Imperial Russian Army.[6] His ailing father, a Polish patriot, was deeply grieved by his son's decision and died in 1915 without seeing him again.

When World War I broke out Malinowski was an Austrian subject, and thereby an enemy of the British commonwealth, he was unable to travel back to England. The Australian government nonetheless provided him with permission and funds to undertake ethnographic work within their territories and Malinowski chose to go to the Trobriand Islands, in Melanesia where he stayed for several years, studying the indigenous culture. Upon his return to England after the war, he published his main work Argonauts of the Western Pacific (1922), which established him as one of the most important anthropologists in Europe of that time. He took posts as lecturer and later as a chair in anthropology at the LSE, attracting large numbers of students and exerting great influence on the development of British social anthropology. Among his students in this period were such prominent anthropologists as Raymond Firth, E. E. Evans-Pritchard, Hortense Powdermaker, Edmund Leach, Audrey Richards and Meyer Fortes.

His ethnography of the Trobriand Islands described the complex institution of the Kula ring, and became foundational for subsequent theories of reciprocity and exchange. He was also widely regarded as an eminent fieldworker and his texts regarding the anthropological field methods were foundational to early anthropology, for example coining the term participatory observation. His approach to social theory was a brand of psychological functionalism emphasising how social and cultural institutions serve basic human needs, a perspective opposed to A. R. Radcliffe-Brown's structural functionalism that emphasised the ways in which social institutions function in relation to society as a whole.

In 1920, he published a scientific article on the Kula Ring,[9] perhaps the first documentation of generalised exchange. In 1922, he earned a doctorate of science in anthropology and was teaching at the London School of Economics. That year his book Argonauts of the Western Pacific was published. It was widely regarded as a masterpiece, and Malinowski became one of the best-known anthropologists in the world. For the next two decades, he would establish the London School of Economics as Europe's main centre of anthropology. He became a British citizen in 1931. In 1933, he became a foreign member of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences.[10]

From 1933 he visited several American universities. When World War II broke out during one of his American visits, he stayed there. He took up a position at Yale University, where he remained until his death. In 1942, he co-founded the Polish Institute of Arts and Sciences of America.

Malinowski died on 16 May 1942, aged 58, of a heart attack while preparing to conduct summer fieldwork in Oaxaca, Mexico. He was interred at Evergreen Cemetery in New Haven, Connecticut.[11] His personal diary, written during his fieldwork in Melanesia and New Guinea, was published posthumously in 1967 by his widow Valetta Swann and has been a source of controversy since its inception.[12]


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