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Inuit Morality Play

The Emotional Education of a Three-Year-Old

By Jean L. Briggs
Categories: Indigenous Studies, Cultural Studies, Anthropology/ethnography
Series: Social and Economic Studies
Series Number: 62
Paperback : 9780919666962, 300 pages, April 1998


  • Winner, L. Bryce Boyer Prize in Psychoanalytic Anthropology 1999
  • Joint winner, Victor Turner Prize for Ethnographic Writing 1999


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 meaning 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.

Co-published with Yale University Press.


"Briggs shows that when you focus on moment-to-moment interactions in one context, you can open up a whole world of meaning. The book is a stroke of genius. "

- Arlie Russell Hochschild

"I could not be more enthusiastic about this brilliant book. It makes persuasive, nuanced arguments about culture, internalization, and personal individuality, and it is a mesmerizing ethnography. "

- Nancy J. Chodorow

“Inuit Morality Play is truly a masterpiece of interpretive analysis, casting question after question into the air and juggling them down skillfully and with thoughtful precision to an arrangement that leaves starkly visible the contradictory, conflicting, and convoluted sociologic of growing up. ”

- David Koester, American Ethnologist