Bronislaw Malinowski's Functionalism

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School 3: Functionalism
Basic premises:
• Functionalists argue that society should be understood as a system of interdependent parts. o Individual meaning cannot be understood independently of a wider system of collective practices and beliefs in which they are embedded in. Furthermore, these practices can be explained according to the functions that they contribute to social life as a whole.
Points of Influence:
A. Bronislaw Malinowski (1884-1942)
a. Polish-British anthropologist, educated in Krakow under Wilhelm Wundt at the London School of Economics
i. He established the ideal standards of anthropological fieldwork , demanding consistent, thorough, genuine engagement through “participant observation”
b. He founded modern British anthropology
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Functionalism was an attempt to move away from the evolutionism that dominated American and British anthropology at the turn of the century. Malinowski 's functionalism was highly influential in the 1920s and 1930s. Though it had great impact on European anthropology, American anthropology had a delayed absorption of these ideals.
Functionalism became a dominant school of thought in North American sociology during the 1950s—a period of great wealth and growth due to capitalism.
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(Although Durkheim was more of an ‘armchair ethnographer’)
Accomplishments:
Malinowski pushed for a paradigm shift in British anthropology, from the speculative and historical to the ahistorical study of social institutions. This theoretical shift gave rise to functionalism and established fieldwork as the defining experience of social anthropology. In addition, Functionalism was highly influential on structural functionalism and on Radcliffe-Brown. Its heavy emphasis on the importance of fieldwork has now become a norm in anthropological studies, allowing for a much more comprehensive and in-depth understanding of different societies.
Criticisms:
Functionalist thought grew to become the dominant school of American anthropological theory in the 1950s and 60s, but as other theorists began to question the loftiness and incapability of functionalism to fully visualize and put into context the interactions within the social structure, it was criticized for being too subjective, and eventually support for it declined in the 1970s.
Key Works:
• The Rules of Sociologic Method (Durkheim)
• The Division of Labor in Society

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