Crit of Malinowski and R-B for Sasha

Robert Thornton (R.Thornton@SUSSEX.AC.UK)
Tue, 24 Oct 1995 13:28:36 BST

For Sasha: When I was a boy in the 1950s and after Sputnik, caught up
as a 'subject' in the fever to train American youth for the Space Race
and Cold War, I used to write letters to US Army and Airforce saying
'Dear Sirs, Please send me anything you have about rockets.' Sasha's
letter asking for 'anything about Malinowski and Radcliffe-Brown' is a
bit like that. Anyway, since the US Army and Airforce sent me
endlessly wonderful and awe-inspiring pictures of their latest rockets
(without, it turned out, much effect on my contribution to either the
Space Race or the Cold War) I thought I should help here. Like the
Airforce, it is somewhat to my advantage, since i can use it as an
excuse to advertise my own contribution to the area of Malinowski
studies, even tho I did not win the Cold war, or join the Space Race.
I take your interest to be in Malinowski and Radcliffe Brown, _per se_
? In any case, you may be interested in the volume entitled _The EArly
Writings of Malinowski, 1904-1914_ (Campridge U. Press, 1992), edited
by R. Thornton and Peter Skalnik. This is relevant for understanding
_Argonauts_, since, as I argue in the Introduction, Argonauts (among
others) is really the working out of theories that Malinowski had
developed as a student at the Jagiellonian University in Poland before
going to Australia and subsequently the Trobriands. The book deals,
in particular, with the very strong influence on Malinowski's thought
by the 19th century German Classicist and philosopher, Friedrich
Nietzsche, and the Austrian Physicist, and philosopher of science,
Ernst Mach. Inasmuch as Nietzsche's thought is at the root of the
post-modernist's thinking, Malinowski was already post-modernist
before PoMo existed, although he and his friends in Cracow thought of
it as Avant-Garde and bohemian. Ernst Mach, of course, is the man
behind the Mach numbers that measure speed of an object through a
medium relative to the speed of sound, and is the founder of
relativism in physics. Einstein pushed Mach's ideas in physics with
now famous results, and Malinowski developed them in ANthropology. Of
course, Malinowski's relativism and theory of culture had as much o do
with Nietzsche as it did with Mach.
Others on the list who have been debating issues of postmodernism
and its relevance to Anthropology might also be interested in looking
up Malinowskis own genealogy in the field of Nietzschean meataphysics.

Another item, although it is, I am afraid, published in a very obscure
journal deals with the Nietzschean influence on Malinowski's _Crime
and Custom in Savage Society_: see

Thornton, Robert. 'The Chains of Reciprocity: The impact of
Nietzsche's _Genealogy of Morals_ on Malinowski's _Crime and Custom in
Savage Society' The Polish Sociological Bulletin. 1992 (1).

_Crime and Custom_ is Malinowski's _Discipline and Punish_(by M.
Foucault) inasmuch as they are both about discipline, and both derive
from the same intellectual source in Nietzsche's writings. In fact,
if you read Nietzsche first, you can see just how close Foucault and
Malinowski actually are in many ways. What Foucault called 'the
episteme', for instance, in the Archaeology of Knowledge_, Malinowski
called 'culture', and what Foucault calls 'carceration' or
'sequestration' and 'surveillance', Malinowski deals with in
non-Western societies under the rubrics of seclusion, exile/exclusion
and 'public opinion'. Malinowski's theory of society built upon
networks or chains of reciprocity, mutuality and obligation , are
closely paralleled by Foucault's ideas of power as a 'network of
knowledge' (or power/knowledge) that inheres in the everyday practices
of daily life. Both sets of ideas can be traced to Nietzsche.

Besides this, for the best critical re-evaluation of Malinowski from
the negelected perspective of Central European culture and society,
see the volume
_Malinowski between Two Worlds_, edited (I think) by Roy Ellen and
(name escapes me -- a Polish colleague) CAmbridge U Press.

Ernest Gellner's appreciation of Malinowski's final (and very little
known work ) _Freedom and Civilisation_ appears in his recent
_Encounters with Nationalism_ (1994).

Cheers all, (from U. of Sussex where I am visiting from Wits
University, Johannesburg til December, 1995).