MALINOWSKI provoked and enjoyed controversy throughout his life and it is not surprising that even now, some twenty years after his death, his colleagues and successors in social anthropology should still be arguing about the limitations and potentialities of his theoretical ideas, the extent of the change he may have wrought in the techniques of empirical field research, and his role in developing social anthropology as a specific specialism with its own subject-matter and its own pattern of cooperation with other disciplines. Much incisive and enlightening comment has been written about Malinowski but to assess these comments with confidence we have to turn to his own writings, and to study him as he himself would have recommended, by getting as close to the sources of information as possible. The present volume, his first major work, has long been out of print and has therefore often been overlooked by his defenders as well as his critics.
Malinowski is mainly remembered for his books on the Trobriand Islanders of Papua, for his theory of functionalism, and for the brilliant group of social anthropologists that he inspired during his long years of teaching at the London School of Economics. The Family Among the Australian Aborigines belongs to an earlier phase, before he had travelled outside Europe, and before he had begun the direct observation of tribal peoples in their own habitat. It was written at a time when the theoretical arguments of anthropologists were still directed towards, or