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Bronislaw Malinowski “A Scientific Theory of Culture”

Malinowski, Bronislaw 1969 [1944]. A Scientific Theory of Culture and Other Essays. London; Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press.

Thus, not merely antrhopology, but the Study of Man in general, comprising all the social sciences, all the new psychologically or sociologically oriented disciplines, may and must cooperate in the building of a common scientific basis, which perforce will have to be identical for all the diverse pursuits of humanism. (6)

There is no such thing as description completely devoid of theory. (7)

Science really begins when general principles have to be put to the test of fact, and when practical problems and theoretical relations of relevant factors are used to manipulate reality in human action. The minimum definition of science, therefore, implies invariably the existence of general laws, a field for experiment or observation, and last, but not least, a control of academic discourse by practical application. (11)

To observe means to select, to classify, to isolate on the basis of theory. To construct a theory is to sum up the relevancy of past observation and to anticipate empirical confirmation or rebuttal of theoretical problems posed. (12)

[…] the theory of culture must take its stand on biological fact. Human beings are an animal species. They are subject to elemental conditions which have to be fulfilled so that individuals may survive, the race continue and organisms one and all be maintained in working order. (36)

We shall attempt to show that a theory can be developed in which the basic needs and their cultural satisfaction can be linked up with the derivation of new cultural needs; that these new needs impose upon man and society a secondary type of determinism. (38)

The scientific analysis of culture, however, can point to another system of realities that also conforms to general laws, and can thus be used as a guide for field-work, as a means of identification of cultural realities, and as the basis of social engineering. The analysis just outlined, in which we attempt to define the relation between a cultural performance and a human need, basic or derived, may be termed functional. For function can not be defined in any other way than the satisfaction of a need by an activity in which human beings cooperate, use artifacts, and consume goods. Yet this very definition implies another principle with which we can concretely integrate any phase of cultural behavior. The essential concept here is that of organization. In order to achieve any purpose, reach any end, human beings have to

organize. As we shall show, organization implies a very definite scheme or structure, the main factors of which are universal in that they are applicable to all organized groups, which again, in their typical form, are universal throughout mankind. (38-39)

Our two types of analysis, functional and institutional, will allow us to define culture more concretely, precisely and exhaustively. Culture is an integral composed of partly autonomous, partly coordinated institutions. It is integrated on a series of principles such as the community

of blood through procreation; the contiguity in space related to cooperation; the specialization in activities; and last but not least, the use of power in political organi-zation. Each culture owes its completeness and self-sufficiency to the fact that it satisfies the whole range of basic, instrumental and integrative needs. (40)

Again, in terms of our functional analysis, we will show that no invention, no revolution, no social or intellectual change, ever occurs except when new needs are created; and thus new devices in technique, in knowledge, or in belief are fitted into the cultural process or an institution. (41)

This brief outline, which is really a blueprint for our following fuller analysis, indicates that scientific anthro-pology consists in a theory of institutions, that is, a concrete analysis of the type units of an organization. As a theory of basic needs, and a derivation of instrumental and integrative imperatives, scientific anthropology gives us the functional analysis, which allows us to define the form, as well as the meaning, of a customary idea or contrivance. (41-42)

TH E ESSENTIAL FACT of culture as we live it and experience it, as we can observe it scientifically, is the organization of human beings into permanent groups. Such groups are related by some agreement, some traditional law or cus-tom, something which corresponds to Rousseau’s contrat social. (43)

We can define the term “human nature” by the fact that all men have to eat, they have to breathe, to sleep, to procreate, and to eliminate waste matter from their organisms wherever they live and whatever type of civilization they practice. (75)

Function,  in  this  simplest  and  most  basic  aspect  of human  behavior,  can  be  defined  as  the  satisfaction  of  an organic  impulse  by  the  appropriate  act. (83)

In  all  this,  we  are  showing  how  the  very  act, that  is,  the  core  of  avital  sequence,  is  also  regulated, defined,  and  thus  modified  by  culture. (88)

The concept of drive is  better  omitted  from  any  analysis  of  human  behavior, unIess,  that is,  we  understand  that we  have  to  use  it differently  from  the  animal  psychologists  or  physiologists.  Since a  conceptuaI differentiation  is  always  best terminologically differentiated,  we  shall  speak  heneeforth  of  motive,  meaning  by  this  the  urge  as  it actually  is  found  in  operatian within  a  given  culture. (89)

We  have,  however,  to  reformulate our  concept  of  that  physiologicaI  minimum,  the  limits within which  physiologicaI  motivations  ean  be  refashioned so  that  they  stiIl  donot  force  organic  degeneration  or depopulation  upon  the  members  of  a  culture.  As  opposed

to  motive,  therefore,  we  speak  of  needs.  This  term  we shall  predicate  not with reference  to  an  individual  organism,  but  rather  for  the  communityand  its  culture  as  a

whole.  By  need,  then,  I  understand  the  system  of  conditions  in  the  human organism,  in  the  culturaI  setting,  and in  the  relation  of  both  to  the  natural  environment,  which are  sufficient  and  necessary  for  the  survival  of  group  and organism.  A  need,  therefore,  is  the  limiting  set  of  facts. Habits  and  their  motivations,  the  learned  responses  and the  foundations  of  organization,  must  be  so  arranged  as to  allow  the  basic  needs  to  be  satisfied. (89-90)

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