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Inuit Morality Play - Briggs, Jean L. - Yale University Press
  • Sep 10, 1999
    300 p., 6 x 9
    3 b/w illus.
    ISBN: 9780300080643
    Paper: $32.00 tx
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Social Science
History
Psychology

Inuit Morality Play

The Emotional Education of a Three-Year-Old

  • Jean L. Briggs
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Co-winner of the Victor Turner Prize given by the Society for Humanistic Anthropology

Winner of the 1999 Bryce Boyer Prize by the Society for Psychological Anthropology

"Is your mother good?" "Are you good?" "Do you want to come live with me?" Inuit adults often playfully present small children with difficult, even dangerous, choices and then dramatize the consequences of the child’s answers. They are enacting in larger-than-life form the plots that drive Inuit social life—testing, acting out problems, entertaining themselves, and, most of all, bringing up their children.

In a riveting narrative, psychological anthropologist Jean L. Briggs takes us through six months of dramatic interactions in the life of Chubby Maata, a three-year-old girl growing up in a Baffin Island hunting camp. The book examines the issues that engaged the child—belonging, possession, love—and shows the process of her growing. Briggs questions the nature of "sharedness" in culture and assumptions about how culture is transmitted. She suggests that both cultural meanings and strong personal commitment to one’s world can be (and perhaps must be) acquired not by straightforwardly learning attitudes, rules, and habits in a dependent mode but by experiencing oneself as an agent engaged in productive conflict in emotionally problematic situations. Briggs finds that dramatic play is an essential force in Inuit social life. It creates and supports values; engenders and manages attachments and conflicts; and teaches and maintains an alert, experimental, constantly testing approach to social relationships.

Jean L. Briggs is Professor Emeritus, Department of Anthropology, Memorial University of Newfoundland. She is the author of the classic ethnographic study Never in Anger: Portrait of an Eskimo Family.

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