- Functionalists Write II: Weird Empathy in Malinowski's Trobriand Ethnographies
- Anthropological Quarterly
- George Washington University Institute for Ethnographic Research
- Volume 90, Number 4, Fall 2017
- pp. 973-1002
- View Citation
Offered as a sequel of sorts to James Boon's "Functionalists Write, too," this essay examines themes of personhood and aesthetic knowledge in Bronislaw Malinowski's ethnographies, Argonauts of the Western Pacific and Coral Gardens and their Magic. Focused on the texts and their formal procedures, this analysis highlights moments where Malinowski stages his own empathetic identification with Trobriand forms of life. I argue that the representation of identification as a "falling back" into reality as objective alterity, is an important trope in Malinowski's descriptive apparatus. Malinowski's prose produces a doubling of consciousness in the effort to grasp a "real" that traduces Western habits and categories of perception. A close reading of key moments in Malinowski's Trobriand ethnographies leads to a comparison of the functionalist representation of this "other" reality with modernist art, particularly cubism; this comparison is employed to illuminate the ongoing theoretical power of Malinowski's methodological experiments.