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SOC250Y1 Lecture Notes - Dietary Supplement, Erectile Dysfunction, Trobriand Islands

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Joseph Bryant

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SOC 250 Lecture 5
Bronislaw Malinowski
o 1884-1942
o Pioneer of ethnographic fieldwork
Trobriand islands
o Founder of the “Functionalist” approach
Opposes evolutionary stage models
o The goal of the cultural anthropologist is “to grasp the native’s point of view, his relation to life,
to realize his vision of his world”
o “Yet it must be remembered that what appears to us an extensive, complicated and yet well-
ordered institution is the outcome of so many doings and pursuits, carried on by savages, who
have no laws or aims or charters definitively laid down. They have no knowledge of the total
outline of any of their social structure. They know to them, but how, out of these, the whole
collective institution shapes, this is beyond their mental range. Not even the most intelligent
native has any clear idea of the Kula [an elaborative inter-island exchange/reciprocity ritual] as a
big, organized social construction, still less of its sociological function and implications…the
integration construction still less of its sociological function and implications…the integration of
all the details observed, the achievement of a sociological synthesis of all the various, relevant
symptoms, is the task of Ethnographer…the Ethnographer has to construct the picture of the big
institution, very much as the physicist constructs his theory from the experimental data, which
always have been within reach of everybody, but needed a constant interpretation”
o Malinowski rejectsreligionscience stage theories
o Primitives” have practical sciences
Hydraulics, botany, engineering, etc.
They display astonishing “rational mastery” of their environments
o Magic, therefore, is not “false” or “primitive science”
It is an auxiliary (an aid or support) to empirical/practical action
Aboriginal or tribal peoples are aware of the difference between magical and mechanical
o Magic has another function: to cope with situations of stress, danger, uncertainty magic is an
anxiety-reduction mechanism
Magic mediates between desire and impotence as “anticipatory affirmations of prosperity
and plenty”
o Magical rites and actions commonly feature a “symbolic enactment” of the desired ends (Eg: the
hunt, the kill) magical gestures and words anticipate the results hoped for
o Malinowski’s observation: the technical/pragmatic and spiritual/magical/symbolic often run
parallel, or are fused, complementary the interlacing of the magical and the technical
Famous exemplar: Trobriand islanders rely significantly on fishing for dietary
Lagoon fishing (no magic) vs. deep sea fishing (much magic)
o Magic functions as an anxiety reduction method
Not enough to rely on practical techniques
Hope for something more
Doesn’t displace the rational thing
Merely gives you confidence to go ahead
o The magical side of society will always exist
Whenever there is a sense of danger we will turn to a higher power for luck
o Malinowski follows Durkheim in tracing religion to the distinction between “sacred” and
Emphasized the centrality of reverence, veneration, and awe in religious belief and action
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