Malinowski, Bronislaw (preface Sir James George Frazer)
- Argonauts of the Western Pacific An Account of Native Enterprise and Adventure in the Archipelagoes of Melanesian New Guinea
Routledge & Kegan Paul, London, 1966.
Octavo hardcover; dark blue boards with blind-stamped edges and gilt spine titling; 527pp., 65 illustrations, 5 maps and 2 figures. Owner's name elided in 'white-out', and lightly toned text block edges with some light scattered spotting on top edge. Boards mildly rubbed with tiny scratches here and there. Very good. Lacks dustwrapper. "Malinowski was one of the most colourful and charismatic social scientists of the twentieth century. A founding father of British social anthropology between the two world wars, his quasi-mythical status has fascinated his disciplinary descendants who continue to measure themselves against his achievements. 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. It is for his corpus of ethnographic writings on the Trobriand Islanders, however, that Malinowski is revered and best remembered. Most of his books remain in print and continue to be taught, critiqued, and studied as exemplars of anthropological modernism. His best ethnographic writing is a stylistic confection of vivid description, reflexive anecdote, methodological prescription and theoretical aside. Malinowski broke with convention by abandoning the positivist pretence of aloof scientific objectivity by inserting a witnessing self into his narrative. The 'Ethnographer' of his books is a somewhat outlandish character 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 Natives of Mailu (1915) and reached full maturity in Baloma (1916), a monograph-length essay on Trobriand religion. The intrusion of Malinowski's authorial self blurred the distinction between Romantic travelogue and ethnographic monograph. In Ethnography, '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'. Malinowski's first and most celebrated Trobriand monograph, Argonauts of the Western Pacific (1922), is a richly-illustrated account of the ceremonial exchange of manufactured shell valuables through which the Trobriands are linked to other island groups of eastern New Guinea. A colourful scientific travelogue, Argonauts takes its readers on a canoe-borne voyage around the so-called Kula Ring of islands. The author's Introduction (which has been dubbed the Book of Genesis of the fieldworker's Bible) contains twenty-five of the most influential pages in the history of social anthropology. Malinowski's intention was to raise ethnographic fieldwork to a professional art. 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 ultimate aim of social or cultural anthropology is to convert knowledge of other modes of life into wisdom." - Michael Young.
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