Anthropology Theory Project

A. R. Radcliffe-Brown

33pages on
this wiki
Add New Page
Talk1 Share

Alfred Reginald Radcliffe-Brown started not as an anthropologist but as a philosopher and psychologist but then turned to anthropology which allowed him to earn the name of "Father of Structural-Functionalism." Structural-functionalism is commonly defined as "society as an entity composed of functionally interdependent institutions" according to NNDB (2009). He is also considered the co-founder, along with Bronislaw Malinowski, of British social anthropology. Throughout his academic career, he did extensive fieldwork among different groups of people around the world the comparison of which would ultimately help him to create a theory on social structures. His influence and his teachings encouraged people to participate in anthropology and helped to the development of social anthropology This idea influenced Radcliffe-Brown's thinking and laid the foundation for his views on social anthropology.Edit

kuper (1973) states that Radcliffe-Brown and Bronislaw Malinowski have an interesting history together. Together, they are known as the "Fathers of British Social Anthropology" because of what each contributed to the field. Malinowski brought the awareness of the flesh-and-blood interests behind custom, and his radically new techniques of observation . Radcliffe-Brown brought the ideas of French sociology and new concepts to new fieldworkers on the development of social anthropology. They did not have much in common besides the fact that both hated history and both were concerned about the different aspects of a society and the way that they relate to each other; however, the similarities end there. Malinowski considered fieldwork to be very important to anthropology. His studies include three trips to New Guinea with a two year stay with the Trobrianders. Malinowski was also interested in the way social institutions worked to meet individual needs. Radcliffe-Brown, on the other hand, was seen as an armchair anthropologists with the only major in-depth study being done with the Andaman Islanders.The rest of his studies only picked at various subjects within the society. He was more focused on the way that social institutions supported structures in society and societal integration.
In 1937, Malinowski and Radcliffe-Brown were working together at Oxford and was greeted with open arms by his fellow anthropologists. By some, he was seen as a welcoming challenge to Malinowski's teachings by representing sense, clarity, and sociology. He was also seen as the classes to the romantic that was Malinowski. Malinowski also gushed his theories and ideas while Radcliffe-Brown let only a little through at at time. The two did work together well, however, because the students would go to Radcliffe-Brown for theory instruction and then turn to Malinowski afterward for fieldwork.The biggest rift came between them when Radcliffe-Brown was grouped with Malinowski as a "functionalist." This started when Malinowski first showed Radcliffe-Brown a paper in which contained a lot of reference to Durkheimian views on social function. Then Malinowski began to construct a theory which had a lot of non-social ideas. In the thirties, Malinowski was increasingly trying to explain social facts related to biological or cultural needs; which was his ideas of functionalism. Radcliffe-Brown is quoted in Kuper saying, "'As a consistent opponent of Malinowski's functionalism I may be called an anti-functionalist'" (1973)
In addition structural-functionalism was firstly developed in the United States by anthropologist but was independently created in the United Kingdom by Radcliffe-Brown. It was created mostly as an opposition to evolutionism. The foundation for the theory came from his studies of Durkheim and Max Weber which involved many ideas of social structures while the methodology came from classical fieldwork. Although Radcliffe-Brown was given the credit for the formulation of the theory, has the best usage in his works; Witchcraft, Oracles, and Magic among the Azande and The Nuer. Structural-functionalism has "an idea of society as a holistic, integrated system, but structural functionalism had a much stronger emphasis on the self-perpetuation of the system. Most structural-functionalism deals with political and economical issues but their main focus is on kinship and lineage. They use these topics to help them understand non-Western societies and the way that they function contributed in the development of social anthropology.Furthermore Malinowski (1884-1942),argued that the institutions functioned for the continuation of the norm of an organism(human being).A "norm" is something that has being approved by the society,for the instance in Zimbabwe it is normal to have the same an opposite sex partner and "abnormal' to have same sex partner.Hence proving how functionalism is essential to our understanding and development of social anthropology.
According to NNDB (2009) Radcliffe-Brown's teachings and ideas have affected people in different ways. His influence was felt around the world in such places as Tonga, Sydney, Cape Town,and Chicago; all places that he taught at. He affected students as well as whole departments of anthropology, but this was not without controversy. He was very critical of social evolution and disliked conjectures about whole civilizations, as well as laws about human nature. These ideas would be echoed by both Bronislaw Malinowski and Franz Boas. However great he was, he was eventually shadowed by Malinowski in their thoughts that culture was a “system of meaning that shape and are shaped by individuals within a society”.From his educational origins as a philosophy and psychology student to the founder of British social anthropology, Radcliffe-Brown couldn’t have done it without people along the way. He was encouraged to become an anthropologist by his professor at Cambridge and his reading of the French sociologists Emile Durkheim and Mauss led him to become one of the greatest anthropologists of his time. His travels allowed to him spread his influences to almost every part of the globe and helped him to write his ethnographies and create his theory of structural-functionalism.


Eggan, Fred and W. Llyod Warren. (1956 ) Alfred Reginald Radcliffe-Brown, 1881-1955. American Anthropologist 58: 544-47

Fortes, Meyers, ed.( 1963) Social Structure: Studies presented to A. R. Radcliffe-Brown. New York: Russel & Russel Inc.

Kuper, Adam.( 1973) Anthropologists and Anthropology: The British School 1922-1972. New York: Pica Press

Minnesota State University, Mankato.( 2007) A. R. Radcliffe-Brown. Electronic Document

NNDB: Tracking the entire world.( 2009) A. R. Radcliffe-Brown. Electronic Document

Ad blocker interference detected!

Wikia is a free-to-use site that makes money from advertising. We have a modified experience for viewers using ad blockers

Wikia is not accessible if you’ve made further modifications. Remove the custom ad blocker rule(s) and the page will load as expected.