His functional approach based on identification of human needs and their institutional expression shaped the British Social Anthropology. He is particularly well known for his writings about magic but he did much to stimulate theoretical discussion about institutions, culture and the relationship of psychology to anthropological studies.
His principal works are
(a) ‘Argonauts of the Western Pacific’, 1922
(b) ‘Crime and Custom in Savage Society’, 1926
(c) ‘Sex and Repression’, 1927
(d) ‘Magic, Science and Religion and other Essays’, 1948
Modern Social Anthropology is woven from the twin strands of the fact-finding, empirical ethnographic tradition on the one hand and the holistic analytical tradition on the other. The former is represented by British and American Anthropology, the latter by French Social Anthropology which was profoundly influenced by Emile Durkheim. Social Anthropology as practiced by Radcliffe Brown bears the stamp of both these traditions.
For Brown, the concept of structure refers to an arrangement of parts or components related to one another in some sort of larger unity. Hence, structure is not an abstract but an empirical reality itself.
Emile Durkheim spoke of function in terms of the needs of the social organism. Radcliffe Brown substitutes the idea of ‘needs’ with the necessary conditions of existence. In other words, he assumes that human societies must fulfil certain basic conditions so that they may exist. Just as animal must breathe, eat, excrete and reproduce, so must the social organism carry out certain activities. These ‘necessary conditions for existence’ can, according to Radcliffe Brown, be discovered by the proper kind of scientific enquiry.