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Fortes, M. (1958). Malinowski and Freud. Psychoanal. Rev., 45A(1/2):127-145.

(1958). Psychoanalytic Review, 45A(1/2):127-145

Malinowski and Freud

Meyer Fortes

If it is easy to criticize Malinowski in retrospect, it is just because he towers so high. The faults and failings, which we have learned to avoid by studying him, loom far larger than in lesser men. To criticize his treatment of kinship is not to deny the brilliance and originality of some of his discoveries in this field, or to disparage the inspiration his work has for others. Indeed, I would maintain that Malinowski's most productive hypotheses are concerned with problems of kinship and social organization in the jural sense, and not, as he claimed, with questions of motive and of the meaning of custom in the psychological sense. This may seem inconsistent with my criticism of him but it is not really so. We must remember that his training in sociology was on the literature of Australian family and kinship organization and that the Trobriand discoveries which most startled the anthropological world were his revelations of matrilineal family relations in action. Even without his initial interest he would have found that it was impossible to present his descriptive data in an orderly way without considerable attention to the kinship framework. Among these productive ideas I would include: the analysis of the sociological consequences of native notions of procreation; the concept of the Initial Situation; the Principle of Legitimacy; the theory of the incest taboo; and the concept of the “splitting” of the paternal roles between mother's brother and father. These are due, in large part, to the stimulus of psychoanalysis as Evans-Pritchard pointed out in an appreciative article.

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