Argonauts of the Western Pacific

Refuting the "Primitive Economic Man" Model in Argonauts of the Western Pacific College

In the Argonauts of the Western Pacific, anthropologist Bronislaw Malinowski refutes the notion of “Primitive Economic Man” through his early 20th century studies at the Trobriand Islands. The Trobrianders were considered primitive because of their isolation from modern society, belief in supernatural forces, and difference in skin color. “Primitive Economic Man” denotes the idea of an “imaginary, primitive man, or savage, prompted in all his actions by a rationalistic conception of self-interest, and achieving his aims directly and with the minimum of effort” (Malinowski 1984: 60). Malinowski disagrees with this characterization, and believes that man even in the most basic culture has complex social systems and traditions. He portrays the Trobrianders as self-sufficient and hard working. They employ a complex political system, earn a livelihood involving gardening, and have the socio-economic tradition of the Kula, a long voyage, which involves trading and reciprocity. Rejecting the notion of “Primitive Economic Man,” Malinowski reveals how the Trobrianders base their life on community and kinship through politics, work, and social traditions in order to make his readers understand this unique culture.

Malinowski portrays the...

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