Stern and Stevenson (eds) – Critical Inuit Studies: An Anthology of Contemporary Arctic Ethnography.

Citation: Stern, Pamela and Lisa Stevenson. Critical Inuit Studies: An Anthology of Contemporary Arctic Ethnography. Lincoln, Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press, 2006.


I just read two chapters from this book – the introduction and “Culture as Narrative” by Nelson Graburn. I feel really weird reading a book like this. As the title suggests, Critical Inuit Studies is mainly a compilation of anthropological and ethnographic insights, none of which, from what I can tell, put Inuit voice into the forefront, but rather proffer various interpretations about what interactions with Inuit mean.

Scope/Organization/Main Points:
Chapter 8 – Nelson Graburn, “Culture as Narrative.” Pg. 139-154.

Graburn contends that Inuit have moved from an unconscious mode of transmitting culture, to a conscious mode, necessitated by their increasing awareness that their culture is under threat: “the qullunaat are part of shaping and enabling the Inuitness of Inuit. Inuit are concerned – almost hypersensitive – about the survival of ‘their culture’ (Graburn 1998a) and thus very self-consciously engaged in conversations about the pursuing activities aimed at ensuring the perpetuation of their culture” (139).

While Graburn diplomatically suggests that the turn to consciously promoting and preserving culture is not necessarily a less ‘authentic’ way of practicing culture – and , he does use his analysis as an inroad to suggesting that exactly what is being transmitted cannot properly be called ‘true’ Inuit culture.

In terms of art, Graburn primarily focuses on what he calls “didactic art” that both “informed younger generations of important stories and events remembered by older artists” and “told qallunaat buyers and audiences down South a version of these same stories” (144). I wonder how we can distinguish between “didactic” art and art for art’s sake, if even such a distinction can be made. Does this analysis advance its own sort of compartmentalizing claims? (ie. implying that there is nonpolitical art, just like the suggestion that there are non-political stories?)  Nevertheless, Graburn outlines some really important recent political moments for Inuit art. “On a group level, the Inuit who were invited to Ottawa for the Week of the Inuit in 1972 claimed that they were the artists of the world and they wanted the government to stop qallunaat from making and selling any art” (153).  

 

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