Jean Briggs

Jean BriggsEducation:

BA, Vassar College 1951
MA, Boston University 1960
PhD, Harvard University, 1967


Professor Emerita


Research Interests:

Looking back over the 45 years since I first made the acquaintance of Eskimoic cultures, I find two focal interests: interpersonal (social and emotional) relationships in Inuit families and small groups, and Inuit language. These interests have grown in and out of each other and taken various shapes at various times. Most of my fieldwork has been with camp-dwelling Canadian Inuit but, in 1961-62, I visited Alaskan Inupiat and, in the 1990s, very briefly, Siberian Yupik. My writings have all concerned Canadian Inuit. I have written on the cultural construction of the vocabulary of emotion; family life; the management of hostility in hunting camps and families; the emotional underpinnings of "attachment" and of values like "nonviolence", "concern for others", and "autonomy"; the emotional texture of a small child's life and the socialization of small children into socially valued behaviour through playful interactions with adults; gender relations; the nature of "individuality" in relation to "culture"; the psychological uses of personal names; the conceptualization of time; and changes in the operation of some of the above values under modern conditions of living in villages and towns. Since 1995, five research grants from the SSHRC have supported, and continue to support, a project to create a bipartite bilingual dictionary of the previously undocumented Utkuhiksalingmiut dialect of Inuktitut. Primary coauthors of this work are Professor Alana Johns in the Linguistics Department of the University of Toronto and Conor Cook, an Emerging Scholar of Inuktitut. We have also been significantly helped by Professors Marguerite MacKenzie and Carrie Dyck in the Department of Linguistics at Memorial Univeristy. The Utkuhiksalingmiut dialect was, and to some extent still is, spoken in the Central Arctic area where I have done a large part of the fieldwork described above. One part of the dictionary will contain word-bases; the other will contain affixes, the linguistic units that attach to bases to create words. The affix dictionary is nearing completion. Finally, in recent years, I have written, by request, a number of autobiographical pieces about the development of my ways of thinking and of doing anthropology, especially fieldwork. I have no allegiances to any particular brand of theory; my interpretations tend to develop from the ground up, using as data personal experience and perspectives expressed, verbally or behaviourally, by the actors in an accumulation of small specific incidents - in a manner Piaget would recognize. I also draw on psychoanalytic ideas when the data seem to point in their direction, especially those of Winnicott about play and Anna Freud about defense mechanisms; and I have discovered that my experientially derived ideas about how social learning occurs, in Inuit society and in my own, are very much in line with practice theory, which I recently encountered in the work of Jean Lave.

Selected Publications:


  • Inuit Morality Play: The Emotional Education of a Three-Year-Old. Yale University Press & ISER Books, Memorial University, 1998. (Winner of Boyer Prize, Society for Psychoanalytic Anthropology, and Victor Turner Prize, Society for Humanistic Anthropology.)

  • Never in Anger: Portrait of an Eskimo Family. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1970. (An early example of reflexive ethnography, and of the conceptualization of emotions in a nonwestern culture.)

Invited Articles:

  • "Ethnographic Case Study: Inuit Morality Play and the Danish Medical Officer." In: Carol M. Worthman, Paul M. Plotsky, Daniel S. Schechter, and Constance A. Cummings, (eds), Formative Experiences: The Interaction of Caregiving, Culture, and Developmental Psychology, NY: Cambridge University Press, 2010.

  • "Trial by Fire: Emotional Socialization among Canadian Inuit," An Imagining Each Other essay. In: Richard A. Shweder (ed), The Child: An Encyclopedic Companion, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009.

  • "Daughter and Pawn: One Ethnographer's Routes to Understanding Children." Ethos 36(4), 2008.

  • "Some Personal Thoughts on a Lifelong Commitment to Research on Inuit Culture" and "Commentaries on the Utkuhikhalingmiutitut Dictionary." In: François Trudel (ed), Building Capacity in Arctic Societies: Dynamics and Shifting Perspectives. Proceedings of the Second IPSSAS Seminar (International PhD School for Studies of Arctic Societies), Iqaluit, Nunavut, CA, May 26 - June 6, 2003, pp. 11 - 22. CIÉRA, Faculté des sciences sociales, Université Laval, Québec City, 2005.

  • "Saarak's Crisis: Childbirth and Weaning in an Inuit Community." In: Constance Classen (ed), The Book of Touch, NY: Berg, 2005. (Exerpted from Briggs, Never in Anger, 1970.)

  • (with first author Carrie Dyck). Historical antecedents of /h/, /s/, /j/, and /r^/ in Utkuhiksalik (Inuktitut). Études/ Inuit/ Studies 29 (1-2), 2005.

  • "Language Dead or Alive: What's in a Dictionary?" In: Murielle Nagy (ed), The Power of Traditions: Identities, Politics and Social Sciences, Topics in Arctic Social Sciences 4, Québec City: IASSA, 2002.

  • "Qallunaat run on rails: Inuit do what they want to do. 'Autonomies' in camp and town," Études Inuit Studies 25(1-2), 2001. (A revised version of "The Dynamics of 'Autonomy', Old and New." In: Louis-Jacques Dorais & Robert Watt (eds), Inuit Identities in the Third Millenium, Québec City: Association Inuksiutiit Katimajiit.)

  • "Emotions Have Many Faces: Inuit Lessons," Anthropologica 42(2), 2000.

  • "Conflict Management in a Modern Inuit Community." In: Megan Biesele, Robert Hitchcock, & Peter P. Schweitzer (eds), Hunters and Gatherers in the Modern World: Conflict, Resistance, and Self-Determination, Providence, R.I.: Berghahn Books, 2000.

  • "From Trait to Emblem and Back: Living and Representing Culture in Everyday Life," Arctic Anthropology 34(1), 1997.

  • "Vicissitudes of Attachment: Nurturance and Dependence in Canadian Inuit Family Relationships, Old and New," Arctic Medical Research 54, suppl. 1, 1995.

  • "The Study of Inuit Emotions: Lessons From a Personal Retrospective." In: J.A. Russell (eds), Everyday Conceptions of Emotion, Kluwer Academic Publishers, Dordrecht, The Netherlands, 1995.

  • "Why Don't You Kill Your Baby Brother?: The Dynamics of Peace in Canadian Inuit Camps." In: L.E. Sponsel & T.A. Gregor (eds), The Anthropology of Peace and Nonviolence, Boulder, Colo: Lynne Rienner, 1994.

  • "Mazes of Meaning: How a Child and a Culture Create Each Other." In: W.A. Corsaro & P.J. Miller (eds), Interpretive Approaches to Children's Socialization, San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1992. (Abridged from "Mazes of Meaning: The Exploration of Individuality in Culture and of Culture Through Individual Constructs" in L. Bryce Boyer & Ruth Boyer (eds), The Psychoanalytic Study of Society, 16, Hillsdale, NJ: The Analytic Press, 1991.)

  • "Lines, Cycles, and Transformations: Temporal Perspectives on Inuit Action." In: S. Wallman (ed), Contemporary Futures, Association of Social Anthropologists Monograph 30, London: Routledge, 1992.

  • "Expecting the Unexpected: Canadian Inuit Training for an Experimental Lifestyle," Ethos 19, 1991.

  • "Playwork as a Tool in the Socialization of an Inuit Child," Arctic Medical Research 49(1), 1990.

  • "In Search of Emotional Meaning," Ethos 15, 1987.

  • "Socialization, Family Conflicts and Responses to Culture Change among Canadian Inuit," Arctic Medical Research 40, 1985.

  • "Living Dangerously: The Contradictory Foundations of Value in Canadian Inuit Society." In: Eleanor Leacock & Richard Lee (eds), Politics and History in Band Societies, Cambridge University Press, 1982.

  • "The Origins of Nonviolence: Inuit Aggression Management." In: Ashley Montagu (ed), Learning Nonaggression, Oxford University Press, 1978. (Revised and abbreviated from "The Origins of Nonviolence: Aggression in Two Canadian Inuit Groups" in Warner Muensterberger (ed), The Psychoanalytic Study of Society, 6, NY: International Universities Press, 1975.)

  • "Eskimo Women: Makers of Men." In: Carolyn Matthiasson (ed), Many Sisters, NY: Free Press, 1974.

  • "The Issues of Autonomy & Aggression in the Three-Year-Old: The Utku Eskimo Case," Seminars in Psychiatry 4(4), 1972. (Reprinted in: Robert A. LeVine and Rebecca S. New (eds), Anthropology and Child Development: A Cross -Cultural Reader

    , NY: Blackwell, 2008.)


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