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Jean Briggs Essay

In 1963, an anthropologist called Jean Briggs, travelled for a seventeen month period to Chantrey Inlet to study a small group of Inuit Hunter-Gatherers, named the Utkuhikhalingmuit, or the Utku. She wrote an ethnography called Never in Anger to discuss her knowledge and ideas of her experience in this foreign environment. Instead of keeping distance and remaining ‘outside’ from the field of research with the goal of scientific objectivity, Briggs engages into a more contemporary type of anthropological analysis, which is considered as intersubjective experience.

By being aware of her own assumptions and emotions, Briggs uses them as a key to understanding the Utku way of being. Through sharing the same dwellings with Inuttiaq and his immediate family, Briggs was able to collect very rich and intimate behavioural data. Briggs was interested in looking at the expression of affection and hostility among the Utku. She learned what kind of behaviour is valued by focusing on few individuals: children, volatile Utku adults and foreigners, whose behaviour deviates from the ideal.

Briggs was also interested in the methods that the Utku adopt in order to deal with misbehaviour. The Utku rely on each other mostly for food, warmth and protection, although independence is highly valued. Inuttiaq was very protective over Briggs, because she was unable to perform most tasks necessary for survival. The Utku would tell her that: “You are a Kapluna, and alone here among people, you are someone to be taken care of. ” (Briggs, 1970: 185).

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Even though Briggs and Inuttiaq had their differences at the end of her stay, Inuttiaq continued to be protective towards Briggs, as it is very un-Utku like not to be generous and helpful. Inuit place a high value on mildness, gentleness and concern for others. Emotional control is an essential sign of maturity. “As nurturance (naklik) defines goodness of a human being, so reason (ihuma) defines adultness. ” (Briggs, 1970: 359).

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