Polish-born British anthropologist who developed the functionalist approach to social anthropology, which sought to explain social phenomena in terms of their functional significance.
Malinowski attended the Jagellonian University, Kraców, receiving a degree in physics and mathematics in 1908. While at Leipzig University he was considerably influenced by the psychologist Wilhelm Wundt (1832–1920). Moving to the London School of Economics, Malinowski studied anthropology, received his DSc in 1916, and remained as lecturer, becoming reader in anthropology (1924) and then professor (1927). In 1939 he was appointed visiting professor of anthropology at Yale University.
Based in Australia during World War I, Malinowski conducted his celebrated studies of native society on the Trobriand Islands in the southwest Pacific region. He learnt their language and participated in daily life, one of the first anthropologists to use such a participant-observation method. He described his findings in Argonauts of the Western Pacific (1922). He also toured the USA and Mexico, studying the Pueblo Indians, and observed Bantu tribes in Africa, examining the significance of customs, ceremonies, religion, taboos, and other cultural elements not in a historical context but in relation to the functioning of the society. His other books include The Father in Primitive Psychology (1927) and Scientific Theory of Culture (1944).