Bronislaw Malinowski sought to create a new standard and set a new template for how anthropological studies were constructed and composed. Inspired by the fiction of Joseph Conrad and the cultural immersion in Frazer’s The Golden Bough, Malinowski essentially single-handedly invented the ethnographical literary form of the fieldwork monograph with Argonauts of the Western Pacific.
By staking out an observer’s role within the sociological culture he was studying—natives of the Trobriand Island—he revealed the meticulousness revelation of detail that could be arrived at through the sheer practice of comparing the foreign to the known and analyzing the differences down to a precise scale. Argonauts of the Western Pacific is no mere broad study of ritual and cult practices, but a detailed and focused examination of the system of trade known as Tula which was practiced among the islanders. The central lesson that can be taken from this study is how even a relatively underdeveloped and essentially primitive system of reciprocal trade based on armbands and shell beads could still be inextricably intertwined with the pursuit of status every bit as much as the pursuit of a bigger house and faster car.
Malinowski spent four years immersed in studying the natives of Trobriand Island and in addition to publishing Argonauts of the Western Pacific in 1922, his ethnographies resulting from that time also include a sociological study of sexuality and family dynamics in The Sexual Life of Savages (1929) and a monograph on their agricultural system and its association with magical beliefs in Coral Gardens and Their Magic (1935).
Malinowski sought to demonstrate the complexities of the human experience, which was often overlooked in the anthropological studies of his time. By focusing on the everyday life of the islanders, Malinowski revealed the intricate societal structures that underlie their ritual and cult practices. He exposed the inner workings of the Tula trade system, showing how it was rooted in the pursuit of status and prestige. He also revealed the importance of reciprocity in their society, a concept that is still practiced in many parts of the world today.
The Sexual Life of Savages discussed sexuality in the context of the natives of Trobriand Island and its role in the larger social structure. Malinowski showed that sexuality was a much more complex issue than had previously been suggested, with various social influences and implications. This book was revolutionary in its approach to the subject, as it was the first of its kind to consider sexuality as an integral part of a culture.
Coral Gardens and Their Magic was a monograph focusing on the agricultural system of the Trobriand Islanders and the role of magical beliefs in it. It showed that there was a complex relationship between the two, with the magical beliefs providing a framework for the agricultural system. This book was one of the first to consider the role of religion and superstition in the context of a traditional agricultural system.
Overall, Malinowski’s contributions to anthropology were groundbreaking. His books were some of the first to consider the complexities of human experience and their connection to the larger societal structures. He revealed the intricate relationships between various aspects of culture and showed that even seemingly primitive societies can have complex systems of interaction. His works inspired a new generation of anthropologists to look more deeply into the sociological aspects of societies and to engage in more immersive fieldwork. He is remembered as one of the most influential anthropologists in history, and his works laid the foundation for modern anthropological practices.