Józef Obrębski’s (1905–1967) captivating and profuse body of work as well as the circumstances of his life and academic achievements were heretofore known only superficially and fragmentarily. Since the early 2000s this has slowly begun to change. The anthropology, or ethno-sociology, of Obrębski attracts attention of various groups of readers and new editions, first printings and translations of his works are published in the countries he was connected with in his research and fieldwork: Poland, Macedonia and Belarus.
The scholarly achievements of Obrębski are not confined to the subjectivist theory of ethnic groups as imagined communities and the comprehensive characterization of the emergence of nations as a dynamic and multifaceted process, which were elaborated after an expedition to the field in the Belarusian-Ukrainian Polesie region and which remain relatively best known due to his works published before the war and in the early post-war period. We now recognize that it was Obrębski who introduced the paradigm of functionalism into research of European peasantry – he implemented Malinowski’s method consistently when doing his fieldwork in the Macedonian region of Porecze. We see him to have been the forerunner in other areas as well, to mention only postcolonial and gender studies or medical anthropology. With time we acquaint ourselves and understand his anthropological ideas and his achievements better and better, yet they are still not fully known. A large part of his works remains in archives, including the ethnographic documentation of his fieldwork in Jamaica and the typescripts of the monographs which followed.
A graduate of the famous Slavic Studies at Jagiellonian University, doctor of Social Anthropology at the London School of Economics, doctor of Ethnology at Warsaw University, academic teacher at Free Polish University (Wolna Wszechnica Polska), the University of Lodz and universities in New York, a member of the Institute for the Study of Nationalities (Instytut Badań Spraw Narodowościowych) and of the board of the Polish Sociological Institute (Polski Instytut Socjologiczny), vice-president of the National Institute of Rural Culture (Państwowy Instytut Kultury Wsi), an expert of the West Indian Social Survey and the UN Trusteeship Department, Obrębski was a close student of Kazimierz Moszyński and Bronisław Malinowski, and a colleague of Florian Znaniecki, but most importantly he was an independent, critical and original scholar. Although he was associated with numerous institutions bringing together ethnologists and sociologists, was present in the academic and intellectual circles in Poland, Great Britain and America, and was respected for his ingenuity, wit and personality, yet his name did not become widely known nor has his academic work entered the canon of social sciences and the great story of anthropology and sociology. He published little. He did not found a school of thought; he did not leave behind a group of famous students. Nevertheless, we see him, following the first researcher and tireless promoter of his work Anna Kutrzeba-Pojnarowa, as an anthropologist who “achieved an independent standing in Polish science” and “is himself a school for himself”. Today, thanks to the interest of readers and scholars researching his work, he is slowly entering the mainstream.
The aim of the website devoted to Józef Obrębski is to collect and disseminate his works and materials as well as articles written about him and other sources. Gathered in one place, the scholarly editions of his writing and the growing body of knowledge about him will be more easily available. In this way the website is here to meet the needs of all those interested in the life and work of this unique scholar.
Translated by Helena Teleżyńska
Photograph: Józef Obrębski during fieldwork in Macedonia in the years 1932–1933 (photo from the “Obrebski Collection”, University of Massachussetts, Amherst, USA).
The website was created thanks to funding from the Ministry of Science and Higher Education, grant number 800/P-DUN/2018 entitled “Slavic achievements of the pre-war Polish ethnology online. Verification, scientific elaboration and dissemination in open access of the unknown documentation made by Józef Obrębski in Macedonia in the 1930s”.
Editors: Anna Engelking (content editor; Institute of Slavic Studies, Polish Academy of Sciences) and Piotr Otręba (technical editor, administrator).