MALINOWSKI’S ETHNOGRAPHIC MANIFESTO (“Lightly” Revised for Anthropologists of the Late-Modern, Industrialized West)

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The anthropologist must relinquish his or her comfortable position in the coffee shop or the library, where, armed with laptop, digital recorder, and tablet and at times with a double shot espresso, s/he has been accustomed to collect statements from informants, write down stories, and fill out sheets of paper with informants’ texts. S/he must go out into the downtown districts and the suburbs, and see the natives at work in gardens, in the shopping malls, in office cubicles; s/he must commute with them to distant townships and to other states, and observe them in commerce, trading, and economically and religiously motivated transnational and overseas expeditions. Information must come full-flavored from one’s own observations of native life, and not be squeezed out of reluctant informants as a trickle of talk. Field work can be done first or secondhand even among informants, in the middle of apartment condominiums, not far from the practices of free market capitalism and bureaucratized industry. Open-air anthropology, as opposed to hearsay note-taking, is hard work, but it is also great fun. Only such anthropology can give us the all-around vision of the West and of Western culture.

I’ve edited Malinowski’s original quotation from Magic, Science, and Religion and Other Essays (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1984 [1948]), 147, but for comparative purposes here’s a full-text online version of the entire selection. Photo credit: Kramchang, “DSC07365” (Creative Commons).

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One thought on “MALINOWSKI’S ETHNOGRAPHIC MANIFESTO (“Lightly” Revised for Anthropologists of the Late-Modern, Industrialized West)

  1. I see that Malinowski goes on to acknowledge his debt to James Frazer’s The Golden Bough. I’ve a particular interest in religion so part of me always thought I should read it, but it is very very long. Also, since I introduced myself to anthropology recently (I’m not an academic or student, by the way) I’ve found out that Frazer saw human thought as moving from a primitive stage all the way to a scientific stage, a theory of ‘progress’ that is probably outdated, no?

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