The life and works of Bronislaw K. Malinowski (1884-1942) inspire a reflection on the complex connections between ethnography and intimacy.

A view of the veranda of Malinowskis' house in Oberbozen. Photo by I.M.Carta
A view of the veranda of Malinowskis’ house in Oberbozen. Photo by I.M.Carta

On the one hand, Malinowski formulated ethnography as a specific scientific method that entails becoming familiar with a different culture by observing both public and private spheres of action and taking part in the intimate daily life of people. (See the introduction to the “Argonauts”, 1922). On the other hand, his intimate troubles in fieldwork became emblematic, since his private diary was published post-mortem in 1967, revealing the personal conflicts and problems of the ethnographer. While he was trying to penetrate into the culture of the Trobriand Islands, he remained strongly attached to his own European world, made of memories and visions, ghosts and people, who influenced him and contributed directly or indirectly to his work. Above all, Elsie R. Masson (1890-1935), Malinowski’s first wife, helped him to elaborate the collected ethnographic data, prepare the presentation of his papers and write his articles and monographs.

Bronislaw Malinowski and Elsie Masson: a two-person single career?

Starting from a wider reflection about the multiple relations between ethnographies and intimacies, our research aims firstly to consider the figure and the works of Elsie Masson and her role in the career of her famous husband. Using theoretical concepts concerning with intimacy, family style and gender, we investigate many issues in the Malinowski-Masson collaboration.

The Malinowskis in South Tyrol

Malinowskis' house in Oberbozen. Photo by I.M.Carta
Malinowskis’ house in Oberbozen. Photo by I.M.Carta

After their marriage, in 1922 Bronislaw and Elsie Malinowski moved to Oberbozen-Soprabolzano, on the Ritten-Renon Mountain, directly above Bolzano-Bozen, in South Tyrol, thanks to a suggestion of a friend from Vienna.

They bought a cottage there, which became their “home” for the next ten years and which still belongs to their heirs. A further aim of the MFEA research project is collecting traces of the Malinowskis’ presence in South Tyrol and documents that show their point of view on the local society and cultures in a dramatic historical period, one marked by the Italian Fascist dictatorship and the rise of the Nazism in Austria and Germany.

The Malinowskis’ network between several worlds

The Malinowskis’ house in South Tyrol became a point of connection between the many nodes of their social network, which included Malinowski’s students, academics and above all friends. Many of these friends were artists, intellectuals or adventurous entrepreneurs, who shared with both Bronislaw and Elsie a kind of bourgeois-bohemian, romantic and cosmopolitan life style. These relations linked several worlds and their different cultural roots. Reconstructing the Malinowskis’ private social networks and collecting stories of life and family, our research aims to investigate the role of intimacies, family and friendships in the development of collective ideas and shared life styles, which contributed to the history of science, ethnography and anthropology.


Salvucci, Daniela, Elisabeth Tauber & Dorothy L. Zinn, 2019. The Malinowskis in South Tyrol: A Relational Biography of People, Places and Works, in Bérose – Encyclopédie internationale des histoires de l’anthropologie, Paris.

Elisabeth Tauber, Dorothy L. Zinn, 2018. Back on the verandah and off again: Malinowski in South Tyrol and his ethnographic legacy, in ANUAC Rivista della società italiana di antropologia culturale, Vol 7, n. 2, pp. 9-25

Elisabeth Tauber, Dorothy L. Zinn (eds.), 2018. Thematic section: The Malinowskian legacy in ethnography in ANUAC Rivista della società italiana di antropologia culturale, Vol 7, n. 2

Daniela Salvucci, 2017. MFEA – Il progetto Malinowski Forum per l’Etnografia e l’Antropologia, in Segnalazioni, Ethnorêma, n. 13, pp. 163-165.

The main archives of Malinowski’s material and the greatest of Malinowski’s collections from the Trobriands

Masson’s and Malinowski’s works, studies on Malinowski and the Trobriands, ethnography and history of anthropology

Documentaries about Malinowski’s life and works

Institutes, associations, lectures and awards dedicated to Malinowski