Sharing Food, Sharing Values: Mothering and Empathy in Murik Society

Document Type


Department or Administrative Unit

Anthropology and Museum Studies

Publication Date



Interactions among mothers and children around food are prime opportunities for teaching and learning core cultural values, including their emotional and motivational components. Cognitive theories of culture identify key features and processes that capture the complexity and importance of even brief, but emotionally powerful moments surrounding food and feeding. The Murik concept of mothering is a metaphor of reciprocity and power applied to encompass people in varied and multiple mothering roles in shifting relation to each other. Based on incidents in Murik society, I show how schemas of personhood, sharing, and work are expressed and communicated intersubjectively through interactions involving mothering figures. These interactions express a dynamic among mothers: holding and empathy by a primary mothering figure as a child faces criticism and discipline by other mothers. As mothers enact these complementary roles in situated and particular circumstances, they highlight cultural models and their motivational underpinnings making these available for learning.


This article was originally published in Ethos. The full-text article from the publisher can be found here.

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