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Jean Briggs' study of a small group of Inuit Hunter-Gatherers, named the Utkuhikhalingmuit, or the Utku - review

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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. ...read more.


In fact, the Utku wish to deny hostility altogether. The ultimate sanction against aggressive behaviour is ostracism. It is believed that angry thoughts are not only very harmful, but they can also cause someone's death. Thus, it is very important to demonstrate one's good-will openly. Inuttiaq explains: "We Utku joke a lot. People who joke are not frightening." (Briggs, 1970: 341). Children are explicitly taught to substitute feelings of amusement for the feelings of annoyance or fear. The Utku regard misfortunes of daily life as funny (tiphi). Tiphi feelings indicate that the person is happy (quvia). Thus, humour seems to play more crucial role as an expressive device among the Utku than among us, as tiphi reactions allow people to simultaneously express and deny hostility (Briggs, 1970: 341). There are also other indirect ways of showing aggression that provide the Utku an outlet for tension. For instance, all Utku beat their dogs. Furthermore, the Utku may gossip about the unattractive qualities (e.g. jealousy, greed, stinginess, unhelpfulness and bad temper) of other families. ...read more.


You are loved. Drink some tea." (Briggs, 1970: 142). When his effort was unsuccessful, Inuttiaq started making fun of Raigili by imitating her tone of voice. Through teasing / shaming children learn modesty. Sometimes children are pressurised to conform through false threats: "The Kapluna will adopt you." or very rarely: "We'll tie you to the dog chain."(Briggs, 1970: 140). This behaviour can be seen as another form of socially accepted expression of indirect aggression, as the adults often smile secretly at each other behind the child's back, while threatening the child. Finnish psychotherapist, Tommy Hellsten, writes that children learn which emotions are acceptable through using their parents as mirrors, who then reflect the emotions back to the child. Since anger does not exist among the Utku, Utku parents are incapable of responding or reciprocating any reflection back to their children's angry feelings. Briggs' ethnography argues strongly against the notion that human emotions are universal. We have clearly seen that anger, instead of being simply just a natural part of our physiological make-up, is actually a human product, which can be altered through the mediation of culture. Reference: Briggs, J. (1970) Never in Anger. Cambridge:CUP. Hellsten, Tommy. (1992) Virtahepo olohuoneessa. Otava. ...read more.

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