Bronislaw Malinowski

Argonauts of the Western Pacific

New York: E.P. Dutton. 1961[1922]

"The final goal ... is to grasp the native's point of view,
his relation to life, to realise his vision of his world." (p25)

This statement closes the introduction to this book and remained unproblematic for many years until Clifford Geertz focused on it following the publication of Malinowski's diaries and in a movement of skepticism about the nature of ethnography and the possibility of anthropology that culminated with the work of Clifford (1988), Marcus and Fisher (1986).

The criticism focused on the possibility of reaching "the native's point of view" (Geertz 1976). If this is the goal, then the criticism is radical indeed. What was not discussed much were the three steps that Malinowski describes as essential in the movement towards reaching "the native's point of view.

What are we to do with them?

The goal of ethnographic field-work must be approached through three avenues:

These appear deceptively clear technical matters, though they raise complex issues that directly involve an explicit anthropological activity: "what" is to be counted in the statistical documentation?

Still, one may argue whether any proposition in the shape of "this is the outline of a culture" must necessarily be taken as a statement about the "final goal" of ethnography: (p. 24)

One might doubt whether any of this will ever be doable, without doubting the utility of working at achieving at leasts some of the first three steps in the name of a redefined overall goal that may or may not involve a new understanding of the "natives" and their "point of view." Contrast this to Lévi-Strauss' statement on a similar matter (1963 [1958]: 17)

[full text of introduction]

[full text]

September 14, 2015 [1999]