Why so serious, son? Humans laugh and joke all the time, sometimes even in the face of tragedy and danger. It is a central aspect of our behaviour, and therefore an important topic of anthropological study.
In this module, you will examine the social, cultural, economic and political dimensions of laughter and humour. Our lectures and seminars will be full of clowns and tricksters, satire and caricature, jokes and wit, carnival and similar forms of transgression.
Central to the debates discussed will be extent to which humour is culturally defined – different groups, of course, have different types of humour. We also inquire whether laughter is an effective form of creating social solidarity, and a powerful tool of shaming and punishing those who break social norms. Just as importantly, we will examine the extent to which mockery, irony, sarcasm, and ridicule can also be important forms of political resistance and transformation, particularly when those in power lose control over what people can laugh and joke about.
Students will be asked to consider whether humour is a useful rhetorical tool for anthropologists, especially involved in public debate, or whether we run the risk of trivialising our message and appearing as the jesters of the social sciences.