Wrapping the Body

Inuit Dolls as Fields of Real and Metaphorical Play

Peter Whitridge


Miniature bodies performed multiple roles in past Inuit societies, as dolls, ornaments, personal amulets, and an assortment of magico-ritual devices. A particular genre of faceless, stub-armed wooden figurine is identical to those historically dressed in hide clothing and used primarily as girls’ playthings and, although reasonably common on Inuit sites, they have attracted relatively little archaeological attention. The figural overlap of dolls with other Inuit miniatures is meaningful and points to their wider social and discursive connectivity: dolls were manufactured by adults, didactically clothed by adult seamstresses and older girls, and animated in younger children’s imaginative play. Iconic constituents of a social technology of the body, dolls were tiny but richly vascularized ontobodies that were put to work in core cultural narratives regarding age, gender, selfhood, and the life course.

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