Nostalgia and degeneration: The moral economy of drinking in Navajo society

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This article focuses on how some members of Navajo society use narratives regarding alcohol and drinking to comment on cultural degeneration and the decay of the traditional Navajo moral economy. These narratives of drinking are seldom solely about alcohol but refer to a host of distinct yet interrelated concerns involving moral values, individual and collective identities, underdevelopment, imagined histories, psychic conflict, and social contention. This article sheds light on how evaluations of alcohol and drinking problems, as encapsulated in narratives of degeneration, fit into the overall context of contemporary Navajo society. Narratives of degeneration juxtapose a degenerate present to a nostalgic past and in the process direct moral censure toward two primary groups in Navajo society, namely, young people and others who drink to excess.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3-21
Number of pages19
JournalMedical Anthropology Quarterly
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2002


  • Alcohol
  • Drinking
  • Narrative
  • Native Americans
  • Navajo


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