Almost an anthropologist: Elsie Masson observes indigenous Australia before becoming Mrs. Malinowski
(Free University of Bolzano-Bozen)
Paper short abstract:
Utilizing feminist theories and text analysis, this paper underlines the originality of Elsie Masson's gaze on the social change in colonized indigenous Australia, and shows how family care and the commitment to the career of her husband, Bronislaw Malinowski, influenced her own mobility and career.
Paper long abstract:
In 1913, Elsie Masson, the young daughter of a British academic based in Melbourne, moved to Port Darwin in the Northern Territories of Australia to work as "an au pair". Living there for a year and travelling through this still "untamed" region of the country, Masson had the opportunity to observe and describe different aspects of the local social life, paying special attention to the multicultural dimension of the colonial town and the situation of aboriginal people within the colonial system. She published her notes first in several local newspapers and then in a book. A few years later, young Bronislaw Malinowski, who spent several months in Melbourne between his two long field stays in the Trobriand Islands, read Masson's book and asked her for help to process the huge amount of ethnographic material he had collected. It was the beginning of both a life-long intellectual collaboration and a love relationship, since after they got married and moved to Europe, she continued assisting him.
Following a biographical approach, and using concepts from feminist theories and text analysis, this paper underlines, on the one hand, the originality of Elsie Masson's gaze on social change in colonized, indigenous Australia. On the other hand, referring to the letters that Malinowski and Masson sent to each other, the paper shows how family care activities as a wife and mother and the commitment to her husband's career influenced Elsie Masson's mobility and her possibilities to travel and work again as a journalist and social observer.
On the move: fieldwork, academy and home in the early anthropologists' careers