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Centenary Symposium: Malinowski and Radcliffe-Brown
Thursday 24 November 2022, 10:00am - 06:00pm
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Thursday 24 November 2022,  10am - 6.00pm (GMT) 

A virtual event with the speakers at the RAI.
To join via Zoom, register here:  


Argonauts of the Western Pacific
and The Andaman islanders: A Study in Social Anthropology


Aleksandar Bošković (Institute of Archaeology, Belgrade/ UFRN, Natal)
David Shankland (RAI, London)



Programme and participants

10.00am  Coffee and tea

10.30am  Welcome and Introduction 

10.45am  Adam Kuper (Boston University/ LSE) “Malinowski and Modernism”

Abstract: Britain’s medals to honour veterans of World War One were inscribed “War for Civilisation 1914-1919”: but after the horrors of that war everything changed, certainly in Europe, perhaps most dramatically in the arts. Ezra Pound proclaimed 1922 the Year One of post-Christian Modernism.
Malinowski’s Argonauts and Radcliffe-Brown’s Andaman Islanders appeared in the same magical year, 1922, and so did Frazer’s abridged one-volume edition of The Golden Bough. Frazer’s compendium represented a high point of Victorian evolutionism (and yet it was one of the inspirations for The Waste Land). The new generation of anthropologists were swept along by the interwar wave of artistic, philosophical and scientific renewal. The young Malinowski’s best friend was the great Polish artist Stanlislaw Witkiewicz. Radcliffe-Brown mixed with the circle of modern artists in Sydney in the 1920s. And Mauss’s students in Paris were intimately associated with the Surrealists. In the social sciences, Radcliffe-Brown, Mauss and Malinowski were responding directly to the modernist challenge to make it new.

11.30am  Daniela Salvucci (Free University of Bozen/Bolzano) “Kiriwining: Malinowski-Masson collaboration on the Kula book”

Abstract: Bronislaw Malinowski’s Argonauts of the Western Pacific is considered here as not only one of the foundational works of modern social anthropology, but also as an innovative and appealing piece of ethnographic-anthropological writing. Drawing on archival material and bibliographical sources, this paper sheds a light on the role Elsie R. Masson, Malinowski’s first wife, played in the writing of Malinowski’s masterpiece, helping him to elaborate his ethnographic material from the Trobriands -or Kiriwining- as they called it, and copy editing his manuscript. Focusing on her corrections and comments, the paper explores how Masson’s suggestions could have influenced Malinowski’s writing style in the Kula book.

12.00pm  Kath Weston (British Academy University of Edinburgh/ University of Virginia) “Radcliffe-Brown on the Chain Gang: Prison Discipline and Disciplinary Formation in Anthropology”

Abstract: When Radcliffe-Brown travelled to the Andamans in 1906-08, he wasn't just going to a place where he hoped to study social relations among people grouped together under the rubric "Andamanese", he was also traveling to a British penal colony. Close examination of material uncovered in colonial records complicates impressionistic accounts of Radcliffe-Brown as someone who wasn't that interested in fieldwork or didn't do "real" fieldwork there because he worked primarily with people resettled in the colony's Andaman Homes system. In order to gain occasional access to communities outside Port Blair, he was deputized as a warden and even stepped in as Officer in Charge of Andamanese when the serving officer's wife was murdered by a convict. This essay discusses some of the ways in which prison discipline disciplined his activities in the Andamans, and may have influenced the rule- and system-oriented accounts he would go on to write. The analysis also raises larger questions about how colonial regimes of incarceration shaped the early days of anthropology.

12.30pm - 1.30pm   Lunch

1.30pm  David Shankland (RAI/UCL) "Prophets and Institutions in the History of Anthropology"

Abstract: Whilst there can be no doubt that Malinowski was a tremendously influential figure, this paper argues that to elevate him beyond this as a prophet or revolutionary is unfortunate, because it tends to obscure the historical specificity of his intellectual development. In fact, rather than a prophet who brought inspiration from Eastern Europe, we can see that his conception of anthropology was equally rooted in the British anthropology of the time, certainly Frazer, but also particularly that of Westermarck, his teacher at the LSE. A realisation of this encourages us to revisit our understanding of the way that social anthropology developed as a distinct discipline.

2.00pm Aleksandar Bošković (Institute of Archaeology, Belgrade/ UFRN, Natal) "Malinowski amongst the Anthropologists"

Abstract: The history of anthropology is, among other things, determined by the discipline’s constant need to re-evaluate itself and its legacy. The legacy of some of the most influential anthropologists has been discussed and re-evaluated on numerous occasions. The main aim of this presentation is to outline some of the debates about the work and legacy of Bronislaw Malinowski, including his relation to his contemporaries (like W. H. R. Rivers, and A. R. Radcliffe-Brown), and the lasting influence that he had in the history and theory of anthropology.

2.30pm Salma Siddique (University of St Andrews) "Extraordinary Singular Things: Rivers, Malinowski and the delicacy of fieldwork"

Abstract: Both Malinowski and W. H.R. Rivers were known as ethnographers who focused on their encounters in fieldwork on “extraordinary singular things”. They considered the internal aspects of the persons being observed in their fieldwork. Rivers, both an anthropologist and psychoanalyst, developed this focus from his experiences of working with First World War soldiers suffering from what was later termed as “shell shock”. He treated them with talking therapies, by combining and revising Freud's ideas based on self-knowledge (auto gnosis), character and peculiarities of delirium, hysteria, neurasthenia and sexuality. Anthropologists and psychoanalysts influenced by ethnography now acknowledge the fragility of the human mind, body and soul. Malinowski's research as presented in Argonauts of the Western Pacific applied this approach when observing the exchange of objects negotiating relationships as a surrogate for warfare. Malinowski's diaries in the field initially caused controversies on the relationship between psychology and culture with a shift away from the Oedipal in favour of a complex avuncular existence in the Trobriand Islands. Both anthropologists and psychoanalysts saw the significance of applying an understanding of the ethnographers’ own body and mind as well as the research subject’s to give more symmetry in their relationship, i.e taking a relativist perspective and encouraging participant observation. They were acknowledging the delicacy required in fieldwork. This style of thinking has continued as psychoanalytical anthropology has expanded, but Rivers’ contribution has often been eclipsed by Malinowski’s work.

3.00pm- 3.30pm Tea

3.30pm Isak Niehaus (University of Brunel) “Gradual Innovations: Radcliffe-Brown in the Andaman Islands”

Abstract: Popular myth posits that whilst Malinowski invented the modern method of participant observation, Radcliffe-Brown was most emphatically not a field man. His research is remembered largely for its defects, and as an example of how fieldwork should not be done. This paper seeks to revise this myth and presents a more sympathetic account of Alfred Brown's engagements with the Andaman Islands (1906-1908). I suggest that they were were significant not only for the making of his own intellectual career, but also for the broader history of method in social anthropology. Brown's fieldwork was a crucial step from the extensive methods employed by his mentors during the Torres Straits expedition of 1898, towards the intensive methods that Malinowski used in the Trobriand Islands between 1915 and 1916. Initially Brown mapped the distribution of cultural traits on the islands, assuming that those with the widest distribution were older and gave an indication of the lives of common ancestors, whilst those that occurred only in some groups were recent adaptations to specific environments. This diachronic orientation is apparent in Brown's earlier publications. But in his monograph on the Andamans his focus was on the functional unity of indigenous social systems at the point of colonial contact. Brown made further innovations. He challenged the division between the researcher in the field who collects ethnographic information, and the armchair ethnographer in the metropoles, who creates theories. Moreover, Brown inaugurated a shift from the broad study of skulls, physique, implements, vocabularies and mental expressions to the narrower, more specialized study of social phenomenon. Turning to the context of his Andaman fieldwork, I suggest that despite his dependence on colonial authorities for resources and access to the field, he observed how colonial conquest led to the virtual extinction of local people. In response, Brown attempted to distance himself from government officials, defended the autonomy of the anthropologist, and invoked the authority of the scientist to speak truth to power.

4.00pm Grazyna Kubica (Jagiellonian University) “A Notorious Diarist and His Style – the Editor’s Remarks”

Abstract: I would like to raise several problematic issues of the Malinowski's diaries and other writings, that I - as an editor of the full bulk of his diary notes and the 13 volume collected works in Polish - can settle or at least discuss. One of these is the genre of his diaries, which are probably modelled (at least initially) on Frederic Amiel's Journal intime. Malinowski certainly read it as a student of gymnasium.
Another problem is connected with the question of whether he wrote his diary for publication. In the light of recently found archival material I would venture a thesis that Malinowski did intend to publish a reportage from his trip to Australia, and perhaps also from his later fieldwork. This can be corroborated by the analysis of his diaristic style of earlier and later parts. I will also compare Malinowski's diary entries from the voyage to Australia (not included in the English edition) with the reportage published later by his friend Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz who accompanied him on the trip.
Still another issue would be the discussion of the textual relation between "A Diary in the Strict Sense of the Term" and the "Argonauts of the Western Pacific", and the criticism of Clifford, Firth, Young and other authors in this respect.

4.30pm Raymond Apthorpe (RAI) "Malinowski and linguistic anthropology: naming as reference, clans are good to say?"

Abstract: The ordinary intelligibility of human life as ‘lived’, ‘talked’, ‘experienced’, and ‘understood’ is explored brilliantly throughout Argonauts, and one of the reasons for its great impact. Malinowski discusses linguistic anthropology explicitly in Chapter XVIII of that work, and in building on this beginning the later Malinowski (1) might have wished to explore further the semantic and similar foundations and powers provided by the discursive devices used everyday in socio-cultural communication for, for example, societal comparison, policy generalization, and in either regard defence or rebuttal of stances taken or denied accordingly.
Four such powerful, indispensable, often overlapping, such devices are: naming, framing, coding, counting (2). Efforts to bring counting, that is ‘to put a number on’ what is held to be important, to the table (or stable: it is not difficult to picture those four devices as apocalyptic wild horses threatening to drive such socio-cultural communication discourse to death unless somehow brought to rein) are not uncommon in some approaches to socio-cultural anthropology and the anthropology of policy and practice as it has now become. Similarly, efforts to decode coded meanings of positions taken, and framing used for example to set an agenda or a perspective or a context, are commonplace. But for whatever reasons by comparison naming, as declarative, categorical, unthinking, indexical, labelling, reference - not as sense or meaning (3) - tends to attract much less attention in analysis and critique.
Levi-Strauss, engrossed in decoding the meaning of clan names and totemism, eventually found them to be good to think (rather than - in the case of those clan names which are not place names - good to eat or avoid, or as we might add good to play with or not). Might (the later) Malinowski perhaps have concluded differently, finding clans to provide self-referential I. D. (not meaningful socio-cultural identity) when such is required and therefore as good to say?

(1) Ivan Strenski , ‘Malinowski: second positivism, second romanticism’, Correspondence, Man (JRAI), 1982, December, Vol. 17 No. 4 pp. 776-771
(2) My first brush with this foursome was Raymond Apthorpe, ‘Reading development policy and policy analysis: on framing, naming, numbering and coding’, European Journal of Development Research, 1996, Vol. 8, No. 1, June, 1996.
(3) Cf the logician Frege on naming and Bedeutung (‘reference’ in his unusual translation) and Sinn (‘sense’) in eg. R.M. Sainsbury, ‘Frege and Russell’, The Blackwells companion to philosophy, 1996.

5.00pm  Break

5.15pm  Closing discussion 





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