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An Introduction to Polynesian Anthropology

Functional and Psychological Methods

Functional and Psychological Methods

Another approach to the study of native peoples is what has been termed the functional method. It is primarily associated with the names of Malinowski and Radcliffe-Brown, who, like Moses and Aaron, lead their followers into a land of greater promise. The greater field of promise lies in ignoring the bondage of the historical past and devoting attention to the functioning present. Great importance is rightly attached to the functioning of society among the people of today. The limiting of inquiry into the case history of individual lives also saves the extra time involved in tracing families and tribes back through lengthy lineages into an uncertain past. However, it is difficult at times to know where anthropology ends and sociology begins. In dealing with case histories, a great deal of attention is devoted to the sexual life of the individual, which is somewhat reminiscent of the psychoanalytical method of Freud. The functionalists appear to pay little attention to material culture and technology. More importance appears to be attached to the intimate details of the technique of coitus and its various postures than to the technical details involved in the construction of a canoe and the methods of making it move. In the United States, some students have adopted the psychological approach to the study of culture. However, a discussion on the English and American methods of approach, together with the literature relating to Polynesia, is given in a report by Edwin G. Burrows, who has a personal knowledge of field work in Polynesia.

With regard to methods of approach, the method followed by the student is influenced by both the school from which he graduated and his own individual interest. The extent of his work is governed by the time spent in the field. Unfortunately, the financial support given to expeditions has usually been insufficient to permit of a long stay. If the student is interested in the functional or psychological approach, he has not the time or the inclination to devote to historical reconstruction or the time-consuming details of the technique of the arts and crafts. If his interest is in reconstruction and material culture, he cannot spend the time required in psychoanalyzing a sufficient number of patients. Some functionalists maintain that the historical method is full of error because the informants did not live in the periods they describe, hence their information is hearsay. I am somewhat sceptical of the veracity of informants whose life histories are being investigated. The native will usually give an investigator the information wanted, but he will conceal what he doesn't want known. In matters of intimate sex life, the informant gives the history of his neighbors but not of himself, hence the information is also hearsay. All methods page 128have their errors and all methods have their values. In the words of Rudyard Kipling:

There are nine and sixty ways
Of constructing tribal lays