Good humor, bad taste : a sociology of the joke


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Joke evaluation schedules were completed, and subjects were asked about their favorite television comedians. The initial phase of research was completed in the Netherlands in the late s. Five years later, Kuipers conducted similar research—although on a much smaller scale—in the United States, which is also described in the book.

As a genre, the joke itself is evaluated differently by differing classes. Members of the higher classes—measured not by income but by extent of education—evaluated the joke much more negatively than those with less education. In other words, those with a university education tended to reject the joke as a genre, independent of its contents.

Those with only primary or some secondary education were much more appreciative of the joke form. The more highly educated tended to reject the joke because it is framed as humor and is thus too predictable. It is not spontaneous and creative, it is likely to be disruptive and boisterous, and it is not connected to the person of the teller and thus not an aspect of self.

Lesseducated subjects showed no concern for such criteria and lauded the joke for its sociability and its ability to create fun. The joke is valued for its presentation and not for its spontaneity or originality. There were class differences as well when it came to the evaluation of specific humorous materials—highbrow and lowbrow styles of humor. More-educated subjects appreciated humor with a certain edginess and shock value except when it is about minorities.

Highbrow humor was thought to be complicated, difficult, and ambiguous. It had to make one think. It should make a serious point and not be merely amusing or sociable. The more-educated classes also tended to formulate comments about humor in artistic and literary terms. Less-educated subjects said that they preferred humor that seemed natural, sociable, easily grasped, and nonaggressive. There were a few subjects who equally appreciated both highbrow and lowbrow styles of humor, and even people who of humor, and even people who claimed not to like jokes had a sense of what constituted a good and a bad joke.

And whether one liked or disliked jokes, longer jokes were invariably rated better than shorter ones. The differences that Kuipers found in humor preference based on gender and age were less surprising. There were, of course, differences in knowledge of and appreciation for comedians from differing generations. The jokes of the older subjects employed different settings and scenarios than those of the young.

The young could appreciate transgressive jokes using obscene language and sick imagery more than older subjects could. They also appreciated a quicker tempo in joke telling and comic routines. Women were less appreciative of jokes than men, although they often were the audience for male joke telling. In the course of the twentieth century, sociology became more diverse and increasingly concerned with the micro-reality of everyday life, but it still remained overwhelmingly devoted to the study of social problems, great transformations, and other serious matters.

As a result, humor came into focus mainly when it seemed problematic in itself, or was concerned with important social issues: race and ethnicity, political conict, social resistance, gender inequalities. Meanwhile, questions about the social nature of humor were addressed by many other disciplines. Many of the classical humor theoreticians Morreall touch on social aspects of humor.

However, these questions were mostly answered from a more philosophical or psychological perspective. Anthropologists and folklorists were much ahead of the sociologists in paying serious and systematic attention to the social meanings and functions of humor see Apte ; Oring this volume. Only after the s can we speak of a serious emergence of a sociological interest in humor Fine ; Paton ; Zijderveld In this chapter, I will give an overview of sociological thought about humor.

Humor on the internet

Sociological thought is dened here broadly and somewhat imperialistically as any scholarship concerned with the social functions or social shaping of humor. Since the authors discussed here have used very dierent conceptualizations and denitions of humor, I will simply adopt the various notions of humor used by the authors discussed, and leave the matter of the denition of humor to other authors in this volume. First, I will discuss a number of theoretical perspectives on humor, roughly in chronological order: the functionalist, conict, symbolic interactionist, phenomenological, and comparative-historical approach.

After that, I will discuss a number of issues central to todays sociological thought about humor: the relation between humor, hostility and transgression; humor and laughter; and the social shaping of humorous media and genres. Sociological perspectives on humor 2. Pre-disciplinary history Superiority theory, relief theory, and incongruity are usually described as the three classical approaches to humor and laughter. These approaches predate academic disciplinary specialization, so most of the classical formulations are subsumed today under the heading of philosophy Morreall ; His discussion of laughter can be placed in the tradition of relief theory: laughter, to Spencer, is the discharge of arrested feelings into the muscular system.

However, pure relief theorists, explaining all humor and laughter as release of tension or safety valve, cannot be found anymore in humor scholarship these days. Of the three classical approaches, superiority theory is the most obviously connected with social relations. This tradition can be traced back to. Plato and Aristotle, and has most famously been formulated by Thomas Hobbes: Laughter is nothing else but sudden glory arising from some sudden conception of some eminency in ourselves, by comparison with the inrmity of others, or with our own formerly.

However, on close consideration the classical theorists describe superiority as an individual experience: the communicative or relational aspect of the joking and laughing is generally not examined in these theories. In other words: while addressing a social event, superiority theories of humor are not very sociological. As will become clear in this article, the relation between humor and superiority although referred to in other terms, such as power, conict, or hierarchy is still central to social scientic studies of humor. Incongruity theory the theory that states that all humor is based on the perception or recognition of incongruity is not as obviously related to sociological questions, since it is mainly concerned with the nature of humorous texts or other stimuli, or with the mental operations involved in processing these texts.

However, as incongruity theory, in several varieties Attardo and Raskin ; Oring ; ; Raskin ; Ruch , became the dominant perspective in humor scholarship, it has been incorporated in sociological thought in various ways: how incongruities and their humorous potential are culturally and socially determined Davis ; Oring ; ; how the incongruous form permits specic social functions Mulkay , and how incongruities get to be perceived and constructed as funny Douglas The rst full-edged theory of humor was developed by Sigmund Freud.

In his Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious he integrated elements of relief and incongruity theory, and combined them with his psychoanalytic theory. While Freuds theories on humor and other topics are much disputed, he was the rst to systematically address what I have called here sociological questions about humor, and his inuence on the sociology of humor has been immense. Without attempting to explain Freuds entire humor theory see Martin 33 42; Palmer , let me note two important themes. First, Freud discussed the importance of social relationships between the teller of the joke, his audience, and when applicable the butt of the joke.

In other words: he introduced the social relationship into the analysis of humor. Second, Freud paid attention to the relationship between humor and socially constructed taboos. Jokes, according to Freud, were a way to avoid the censor, or the internalized social restrictions, thus. To Freud, these forbidden drives were mostly sex and aggression. Freuds theory has been strongly criticized, especially for the claim that all humor in the end is based on sex and aggression, although, in all fairness, Freud is more nuanced about this in his discussion of actual jokes than in the general statement of his theory.

Another main point of criticism is the unfalsiability of Freuds theory: the references to underlying drives are, by necessity, veiled and therefore hard to disprove. However, the notion of jokes as related to, and attempting to circumvent, social taboos has become very central to humor scholarship. For sociologists, his most relevant observations have to do with the social character of laughter. Bergson described humor and laughter as essentially social and shared.

Laughing at someone, on the other hand, functions as a means of exclusion, and hence as a social corrective and form of social control. After Freud and Bergson, the various disciplines of humor studies branched out, and in the course of the twentieth century, a number of approaches emerged that are more or less specic to the social sciences: the functionalist approach; the conict approach; the symbolic interactionist approach; the phenomenological approach; and the comparative-historical approach.

The functionalist approach The functionalist approach interprets humor in terms of the social functions it fullls for a society or social group. Especially in older studies of humor, functionalist interpretations tended to stress how humor and other social phenomena maintain and support the social order.

Functionalist studies of humor are often ethnographic studies, but humorous texts, events, and corpora have also been analyzed from a functionalist perspective. The earliest functionalist explanations can be found in the work of anthropologists on so-called joking relationships, a a relationship between two persons in which one is by custom permitted and in some instances required to tease or make fun of the other Radclie-Brown RadclieBrown interpreted such relationships, which exist in various non-Western.

They are modes of organizing a denite and stable system of social behaviour in which conjunctive and disjunctive components. This obligatory joking is a way to relieve tension in possibly strained relationships, thus maintaining the social order. Later, a number of studies were done of non-obligatory joking relationships in industrialized societies, with similar interpretations about the tension-relieving function of joking in situations that contained some sort of structural conict or contradiction Bradney ; Sykes Other ritualized forms of humor, such as rituals of reversal like carnival , and ritual clowning Apte were similarly explained as a safety valve to blow o social tension.

Another function ascribed to humor is social control. Stephenson , in an analysis of American jokes about stratication, concluded that these jokes make fun of transgressions of the social order, and in that way reveal an adherence to a set of values regarded as the traditional American creed Stephenson This reasoning is reminiscent of Bergsons interpretation of humor and laughter as a social corrective: by laughing at something, it is dened as outside of the normal.

A more sophisticated version of this corrective function of humor was developed by Powell , who placed humor among other possible responses to things out of the ordinary, and dened it as one of the milder forms of social corrective stronger forms being, for instance, declaring someone crazy.


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Very recently, social control theory has been revived by Billig, who in Laughter and Ridicule puts forward a theory of humor as a social corrective, closely linked with embarrassment, arguing that ridicule, far from being a detachable negative, lies at the heart of humor. Billig ; see also Billig b From a very dierent angle, Coser also noted the social control functions of humor. In one of her two inuential and oft-cited microsociological studies of humor in a hospital ward, she looked at the patterns of laughter during the sta meetings Coser This study showed how the amount and direction of joking reected the social hierarchy.

By counting the number of laughs, she discovered that doctors got signicantly more laughs than residents, who got more laughs than the nurses. Moreover, everybody tended to joke down: doctors tended to joke about residents, residents joked about the nurses or themselves, and the nurses joked about themselves, or about the patients and their families. According to Coser, this joking helps to maintain the social order: it keeps people in their place. The hierarchy-building function of humor, with the associated correlation between status and. In her second paper on humor, on the use of joking by patients in the hospital ward, Coser explored another function of humor, which also contributes to the social order: social cohesion.

In the more egalitarian and less formally structured life of the wards patients, humor served to create solidarity, share experiences, and build an identity within the group. This cohesive function may seem at odds with the hierarchy-maintaining function. However, hierarchical groups need cohesion too. Joking apparently manages, more than most other forms of combinations, to combine the seemingly contradictory functions of hierarchy-building and bringing about solidarity e. Koller Moreover, Coser describes the use of humor in two very dierent contexts: a formally structured situation among people who know each other versus a more disorganized and egalitarian situation, which is likely to aect the functions humor can, and needs to, fulll.

Types of Humor

In her article on the cohesive functions of laughter, Coser wrote that to laugh, or to occasion laughter through humor and wit, is to invite those present to come closer. Laughter and humor are indeed like an invitation, be it an invitation for dinner, or an invitation to start a conversation: it aims at decreasing social distance.

Coser One of the reasons for humors cohesive function is that a joke is an invitation the acceptance of which is immediately apparent: a laugh or a smile. There are very few forms of interaction that are connected as closely with social acceptance and approval as laughter Provine Also, collective joking takes people outside of everyday life into a more playful non-serious atmosphere, creating what the anthropologist Victor Turner called communitas Fine Hence, humor not only is a sign of closeness among friends, it is also an eective way of forging social bonds, even in situations not very conducive to closeness: it breaks the ice between strangers, unites people in dierent hierarchical positions, and creates a sense of shared conspiracy in the context of illicit activities like gossiping or joking about superiors.

The ip side of this inclusive function of humor is exclusion. Those who do not join in the laughter, because they do not get the joke, or even worse, because the joke targets them, will feel left out, shamed, or ridiculed. The excluding function of humor is often mentioned as the basis for the corrective function described above Powell ; Billig What these three functions relief, control, cohesion have in common is their focus on humor and joking as contribution to the maintenance of social order.

The insistence that all social phenomena maintain the social structure. Social phenomena do not necessarily have the same function for all concerned, and they may well be dysfunctional, at least from some peoples perspective. Despite the demise of functionalism as a theoretical framework after the s, functionalist explanations of humor still are common in humor studies.

Since the s, sociologists have not employed functionalism as a complete theory or comprehensive framework, but instead have attempted to combine functional analysis of humor with analysis of content and context. Humor obviously fullls important social functions, but more recent studies tend to stress the multiple functions of humor, which can be a threat as well as a contribution to the social order: cohesion, control, relief, but also the expression of conict, inciting resistance, insulting, ridiculing or satirizing others Holmes ; Martin ; Mulkay ; Palmer Martineau , in an early attempt to move away from one-dimensional functionalism, constructed a model connecting the functions of humor with specic social relations.

Giselinde Kuipers — Humour and the Semantic Web

He distinguished esteeming and disparaging jokes, within and outside a group, targeting people within or outside the group. Depending on the conditions, he expected humor to solidify social bonds, demoralize, increase internal or external hostility, foster consensus or redene relationships. Powell and Paton edited a volume concentrating mainly on the complex interplay between resistance and control functions of humor, summarized under the heading of tension management, but illustrating a variety of other, positive and negative, functions along the way.

The functions humor fullls can be psychological as well as social. Black or sick humor, for instance in disaster jokes, has often been explained as a way to cope with unpleasant experiences, both individually and collectively, and more generally to distance oneself from negative emotions such as fear, grief, or shame Dundes ; Morrow For a critique, see Oring Sociologist Peter Berger stressed the psychological effects of humor, describing some forms of humor as consolation, liberation, and transcendence.

Thomas Sche described humor and laughter as catharsis Sche and anti-shame As in the social functions stressed by humor scholars, psychological functions ascribed to humor tend to be benecial. Scholars focusing on the dark side of humor will be discussed below. Robinson and Smith-Lovin , in an excellent recent paper, attempted to test functionalist explanations by looking at the use of various types of. They discern four main social functions of humor: meaning making derived from the symbolic interactionist perspective described below , hierarchy building, cohesion building, and tension relief.

In their study, which looked at groups consisting of strangers in task-oriented interaction, they found most support for the hierarchical and slightly less so cohesive functions. They replicated Cosers nding that high status group members get more laughs and make more jokes. The cohesive functions of humor were shown to depend both on the type of humor cohesive versus dierentiating, outward vs.

In other words, the functions of humor are not xed, but very much dependent on type of relation, social context, and on the content of the joke.

sociology of humor

Conict approach Conict theories see humor as an expression of conict, struggle, or antagonism. In contrast with the functionalist theories described above, humor is interpreted not as venting o and hence avoidance or reduction but as an expression or correlate of social conict: humor as a weapon, a form of attack, a means of defense Speier Conict theories of humor have been used especially in the analysis of ethnic and political humor, both cases where the use of humor has a clear target, and tends to be correlated with conict and group antagonism.

However, the literature about humor and conict suers somewhat from conceptual unclarity: in writings about the use of humor as a weapon hostility, aggression, superiority, and rivalry are often used interchangibly, and are not clearly distinguished or delineated. Superiority implies the experience of a higher position, a form of social ranking which is not necessarily related to the urge to hurt someone, which forms the basis of hostility and aggression.

As Cosers ndings in the psychiatric ward suggest, there can be superiority without conict although some conict sociologists would contest this, claiming that all inequality entails conict. However, superiority power, hierarchy is an important moderator of how a conict plays out. In , Obrdlik published a paper on the gallows humor in Czechoslovakia under the Nazi regime in place at the time of publication. He interpreted this form of anti-Nazi joking in two ways: as resistance and morale. Moreover, Obrdlik pointed out that such humor was an index of the strength of the oppressors: if they an aord to ignore it, they are strong; if they react wildly, with anger.

Thus, humor has positive reinforcing functions for the ingroup, but in the context of intergroup relations humor was more like a weapon: an expression of aggression and resistance. The jokes described by Obrdlik are reminiscent of political humor in many oppressive regimes, such as the Nazi regime Stokker or the former Communist regimes Benton ; Davies Typically, the direct voicing of dissent in such regimes is impossible or very dangerous, and even joking may be a risky enterprise, as was memorably though unscholarly described in Czech novelist Milan Kunderas The Joke While this form of humor is clearly correlated with conict and antagonism, there has been considerable disagreement about the eects of such humor.

Humor in repressive circumstances is usually clandestine they were called Flsterwitze or whispered jokes in Nazi Germany Speier This would imply that the internal morale-boosting functions are more important than the eects on the powerful outgroup that the jokes target. Because such humor from below remains backstage or anonymous, many humor scholars conclude that the eects of such humor are relatively marginal.

The collection of Powell and Paton on humor as resistance and control is organized around the interplay of these resistance and control functions of humor. Most of the authors in this volume adhere to some version of the conict theory of humor, focusing on conictive or unequal situations that range from political humor under Communist rule to the much less dramatic example of humor in the workplace. Generally, the authors conclude that the control function is the more important, and that resistance through joking provides mostly temporary relief but stabilizes potentially conictive situations.

As Benton states in his contribution on jokes under communist rule: the political joke will change nothing. Its the relentless enemy of greed, injustice, cruelty and oppression but it could never do without them. It is not a form of active resistance. It reects no political programme. It will mobilize no one. Like the Jewish joke in its time, it is important for keeping society sane and stable.

It cushions the blows of cruel governments and creates sweet illusions. Benton Or, as Speier succinctly put it: Accommodation, however much one peppers it with scorn, remains accommodation. However, other authors have more faith in the subversive potential of humor, and have argued that such weapons of the weak Scott may be important in making people reect critically on their situation, allow them to express hostility against those in power, create an alternative space of resistance, or even give people the courage to take up more concrete actions Gouin ; Hiller ; Jenkins ; Stokker Goldstein, in her provocative ethnography of poor women in a Brazilian shantytown, which she organized around the subjects and places of these womens laughter, argued that While the humor of the poor may not necessarily lead directly to rebellions and political revolutions, it does open up a discursive space within which is becomes possible to speak about matters that are otherwise naturalized, unquestioned, or silenced.

Goldstein This debate on the subversive or conservative nature of humor is partly the result of underlying theoretical disagreements that cannot be resolved by empirical considerations. However, the dynamics of humor in conditions of conict, and hence humors revolutionary potential, strongly depends on the power division and status relations between jokers and their targets. To illustrate this using the case of political humor: in very repressive or unequal conditions, the humor of those without power tends to be clandestine and relatively toothless.

Downward humor by those in power in such situations easily becomes aggressive to the point of cruel. A recent example, described by Paul Lewis is the cruel joking by American prison guards in Baghdad. Such humor by the mighty has received relatively little scholarly attention, but as Speier remarked in his essay on wit and politics: Jests from above, from those of higher status, rather than those from below, that is, jokes born of triumph instead of resistance, may be the prototypical political jokes.

Speier In more open societies and conditions power dierences tend to be less marked, and the dynamics of humor and conict is quite dierent: there are fewer restrictions on humor, and joking is more likely to transcend boundaries or mobilize people. Open societies generally have a wide range of institutions, persons, genres and publications devoted in part to satire and political humor Lockyer ; Shiman, Coleman and Ward ; Speier Such institutionalized humorous genres are free spaces where those in power can be mocked and ridiculed: within their assigned spaces and clear limitations, much is allowed, and politics can be criticized or addressed quite clearly Palmer On the other hand, political humor in the private sphere tends to have much less of an edge than political humor in repressive regimes a familiar complaint in former Communist countries is.

In open societies, the morale-boosting and resistance functions of political humor can be played out more openly. Many political organizations, factions and social movements have used humor to manifest themselves and make their point, at times forcing politicians to seriously address topics raised humorously. Political humor in such conditions becomes part of the political landscape: it highlights social rifts and disagreements because political conicts are performed and dramatized in the humorous realm. And in such cases, humor can sometimes spill over into serious political discourse Lewis , esp.

Finally, humor also can play a more direct role in politics when it is used within political conict and debate, for instance to criticize or ridicule political opponents. This form of humor seems increasingly important in todays media democracies, and has again dierent dynamics: unlike the professional comic genres, it is not played out in a free space, and the connection with actual, serious antagonisms and disagreements can be very real Morreall Although the way such humor is used varies strongly, such humor between political adversaries may contain very visible forms of aggressive and defensive joking while at the same time, politicians using such humor play to the public with their wit Speier Besides political humor, the other type of humor frequently analyzed from a conict perspective is ethnic humor, which is by far the most contested form of humor in modern Western societies Lockyer and Pickering a.

The earliest studies of ethnic humor were done in the United States in the context of racial segregation, which highlighted the relationship between jokes and acute racial conict and inequality. Burma , in an article on the use of humor as a technique in race conict, concluded from his analysis of jokes Whites told about Blacks, and vice versa: From the huge welter of humor, wit and satire which is current today, both written and oral, it is possible to isolate and examine a not inconsequential amount of humor which has as its primary purpose the continuation of race conict.

Even more common is the borderline type: its chief purpose is humor, but it has secondary aspects which denitely can be related to racial competition and conict and the social and cultural patterns which have arisen from them. While some of it may be geared to the continuation of ethnic conict, the complicated aspect is the not inconsequential amount of humor that is primarily intended as humorous, but it is concerned with groups that have a hostile or antagonistic. Burma interprets ethnic humor, even when primarily for fun, as a technique, and hence a weapon in racial conict.

After Burma, there have been many studies in which corpora of ethnic jokes, the repertoire of comedians, or other standardized forms of humor were linked with ethnic conict, hostility, or some other problematic social relationship Draitser ; Dundes ; Dundes and Hauschild ; Gundelach ; Kuipers ; Oshima Generally, these studies attempt to link the existence of ethnic humor, as well as the particular ethnic scripts Raskin about these groups to the conictive or strained relationship between joke-tellers and their targets.

However, not all cases are as obviously related to conict and inequality as the jokes described by Burma. As Davies , , has pointed out, there are many ethnic joke cycles that are not related to conict or hostility, whereas there are other very conictive relationships that are not reected in jokes. Moreover, there are several reported cases of groups who very often joke about themselves, the most famous example of course being Jewish humor.

This complicates the notion that ethnic humor is necessarily the result of inter-ethnic conict or hostility. Another approach to the relationship between ethnic humor and ethnic conict is by looking at peoples appreciation of ethnic humor, and the way this is related to their ethnic background or their opinion of the ethnic group targeted. Middleton found that, while as expected Blacks have higher appreciation of anti-White jokes than Whites, these groups didnt dier signicantly in their appreciation of jokes targeting Blacks.

This led him to conclude that identication with a superior group or the social order as a whole is more important than ethnic aliation in the appreciation of humor. A line of research inspired by Middletons ndings explores the role between the appreciation of ethnic humor and identication. The studies conducted by LaFave show that people tend to appreciate jokes more when they target a group that people do not identify with. Such identication classes do not have to correspond to ones own background, and especially low status groups may prefer jokes targeting their own group.

For instance, some studies have reported that women prefer jokes targeting women to jokes targeting men, or that ethnic minorities tend to prefer jokes targeting their own group to jokes targeting the dominant ethnic group LaFave, Haddad and Marshall ; Nevo In a related line of research, Zillman ; Zillman and Stocking explored disparagement humor, concluding that people generally most enjoy humor that disparages groups they dislike or do not identify with.

However, the conclusion that people like jokes more in the. After all, the same studies also show that people can very well like jokes that target groups they like and identify with just maybe not as much. The conict approach is by far the most contested approach in sociological humor studies. It is used mainly to explain and analyze potentially oensive forms of humor, and thus is directly connected with societal controversies about ethnic, sexist, or political humor Lockyer and Pickering b.

Moreover, debates about the relations between humor and conict, both in Academia and the real world, address the very nature of humor: its non-seriousness, which makes every humorous utterance fundamentally ambiguous.

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The central criticism leveled at the conict approach is that it takes humor too literally, ignoring humors basic ambiguity, which means that a joke can be enjoyed for many dierent reasons. Also, conict theories generally cannot explain why and when people in situations of conict decide to use humor rather than more serious expressions of antagonism. Since the matter of jokes at the expense of others is such a central issue in humor studies and real life , the various perspectives on this matter will be addressed further below.

The question why and when people use unserious modes of communication rather than straightforward serious talk has been taken up by the next two theoretical traditions: symbolic interactionism and phenomenology. Symbolic interactionist approach The symbolic interactionist approach to humor focuses on the role of humor in the construction of meanings and social relations in social interaction. In this approach, social relations and meanings, and more generally social reality are not seen as xed and given, but as constructed and negotiated in the course of social interaction.

Humor, while not very central to big social structures and processes, plays an important role in everyday interaction, and its ambiguity makes it well-suited to negotiations and manipulations of selves and relationships. Within humor studies, the micro-interactionist approach gave a strong impetus to small-scale ethnographic studies of humor, as an alternative to the analysis of standardized forms of humor, joke ratings from questionnaires.

In this approach, whether something is dened as humorous or serious is not a given, but something constructed in the course of interactions. For instance, people who say something in jest usually have more freedom to transgress norms and bring up taboo topics something also noted in functionalist analyses of humor. Emerson analyzed how this shift to joking and the consequent freedom to transgress norms is accepted, or challenged. She described this process as negotiating the serious import of humor. Goman used the notion of framing to describe this process of shifting from one type of interactional logic to another.

Humor is one of the most common forms of framing used in everyday conversation. A humorous frame redenes everything someone says: it is not supposed to be taken seriously anymore. As many conversation analysts have shown, this shift to serious conversation if often marked by laughter, which often occurs at the beginning of a humorous utterance. Similarly, listeners may laugh as a sign of acceptance of this shift of frames Jeerson ; Sachs This perspective has made laughter a central theme in sociological humor studies, not only as an automatic response to a humorous stimulus, but as a form of communication on its own.

Recently, Hay , a sociolinguist, has given a sophisticated account of this process, describing it as the garnering of humor support in the course of social interaction. Symbolic interactionist studies have not only looked at the negotiating, but also at the conversational eects and uses of this ambiguity or non-seriousness of humor. Humor and joking are important in negotiations over the meaning of things: the construction of norms, the debate about what is going on in a particular situation Robinson and Smith-Lovin As Emerson noted, humor is used to bring up themes and topics that are taboo; or to feel out other persons Mulkay Both Sachs and Fine ; noted how among teenagers humor is employed to bring up sexual topics, and can get to function as some sort of test of sexual knowledge.

Among adults, too, sexual humor is very common in irtation, which also is a form of testing Fine ; Walle Humor always provides a way out: both the joker and the audience can ignore any potential serious import of the joke. Similarly, humor can also be used to bring up and negotiate the meaning of a wide variety of other possibly sensitive topics, such as political opinions, money matters, or complaints about bosses or colleagues Paton and Filby Moreover, conversational joking plays a role in the construction of social relationships.

Fine described how humor can be used to create and. However, this creation of a group culture also provides a strong outside boundary: humor includes and excludes at the same time. Many micro-interactionist studies have highlighted the ambiguous role of humor in social relationships Holmes ; Kotho ; ; Mulkay ; Robinson and Smith-Lovin On the one hand, joking creates closeness and solidarity and is important marker of being on the same wavelength. On the other hand, humor has a strong power dimension, resulting in a relation between social status and humor initiation, as well an oft-reported tendency for people to joke down rather than up.

Norrick has pointed out some of the mechanisms at work in the relationship between conversational humor and power. He calls humor a form of conversational aggression, because it disrupts the regular turn-taking pattern of conversation, and because the shift from serious to joking conversation means a drastic shift in the mode of conversation. Thus, any attempt at a joke implies a conversational coup on the part of the joker, who both breaks the serious frame and the turn-taking pattern. The relation between humor and gender has emerged as a central theme in micro-interactionist studies of humor: how are masculinity and femininity formed and performed in the course of interaction?

Until recently, most studies found that men joked more and initiated more humor, which conrms older ndings, such as Cosers, that those in high status tend to joke more. More generally, initiating humor seemed to be associated with masculinity, whereas women were expected to laugh at mens jokes Crawford ; ; Hay ; Holmes ; Kotho ; Kuipers a. Many studies in the symbolic interactionist tradition have analyzed the way people perform gender, thereby creating and reinforcing gender roles as well as power divisions.

These studies on gender and conversational joking also illustrate the larger implication of small-scale interactions: showing how social dierences on a macro-level are created and perpetuated in interaction. Also, changes in society at large manifest themselves in small-scale interactions: as Kotho 13 observes, recent studies increasingly show women initiating jokes, which marks historical changes in the cultural role of humor in communication cf. Holmes In the small-scale studies of symbolic interactionists, humor, joking, and laughter are no longer marginal and frivolous.

Rather, they are at the heart of social analysis, crucial to the shaping of meanings, situations, selves, and. The set of humour styles overlaps with previous ones e.


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    More loose prefrontal-posterior coupling during social-emotional processing, especially in the right hemisphere, indicates loosening of control of the prefrontal cortex over the incoming perceptual information, thereby opening up the perceptual gate and allowing the brain to become more affected by the social-emotional signals.

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    By contrast, functional coupling increases during exposure to aversive information, protecting the individual from being unduly affected by the aversive input 24 , 25 , 26 , 27 , 28 , However, there is at least one other possible outcome. In regard to the brain responses, during the exposure to social-emotional signals, prefrontal-posterior coupling was also higher gate more closed in individuals with a generally lower propensity for perceiving the emotional states of other persons Because of the wide age range in the sample, and because brain connectivity 33 , 34 as well as humour preferences 35 , 36 may change with aging, age was included as an additional predictor to control for its potential influence.

    Coherence changes in the right hemisphere beta frequency range relative to neutral stimulation. Changes in prefrontal-posterior coupling during the laughter or the crying stimulus did not correlate with the use of satire, fun clowning around , and nonsense humour. Table 1 shows that the semi-partial correlations remained virtually unchanged compared to the respective zero-order correlations. This suggests that the relationships between changes of prefrontal-posterior coupling and the use of humour were present independently from eventual correlations with age, and also that the responses to the two stimuli were largely independent.

    Additionally, the analyses revealed that, independently from the brain responses to the social-emotional stimuli, older participants indicated less use of sarcastic, ironic, and nonsense humour. The pattern observed in these results corroborates the findings of the factor analysis in a larger sample which clearly yielded a factor comprising cynicism, sarcasm, and irony, and another factor comprising only benevolent humour Wit did not unequivocally load on either of these factors. Additionally, two supplemental regression analyses were conducted to assess the correlations between the use of dark humour styles i.

    Results of these analyses are summarised in Table 2. These correlations are considered to be of medium size according to the common conventions of Cohen Use of nonsense humour and fun clowning around , to which Schmidt-Hidding 16 had not attributed significant social goals, and which constituted a separate factor i. It seems noteworthy, in this context, that benevolent humour may involve moral goodness or virtue 37 , which is lacking in sheer fun. However, also one of the two more ambivalent types of humour wit 17 correlated with decreases of prefrontal-posterior coupling during the crying stimulus.

    Thus, some malicious intentions are included in this type of humour, which in the current sample perhaps might have outweighed the benevolent parts. It has been clearly recognized that the social effect of joking and laughing with somebody else, that is, the happy laughter of interacting partners, is an immediately pleasurable and rewarding experience for most people who produce humour 6 , 7 , 8 , 9 , 10 , The current findings and their theoretical foundation suggest that in some people i. In line with that, several studies have shown relationships between the propensity of laughing at others and psychopathic personality traits such as antagonism, manipulation and callousness 14 , 42 , 43 , Previous research indicated that the use of dark types of humour may be one factor perpetuating maladaptive cognitive schemas that implicate the belief that one is superior to others and that others should be controlled and dominated Apart from potentially maladaptive features and developments in those with high tendencies to use humour in dark ways, using humour with a view to laughing at other people can have drastic negative social consequences.

    On the other hand, there is evidence that the use of benevolent humour targeted to laugh with somebody else may help to protect against the development of depression That way, the typical use of bright and dark types of humour seems to be rooted in the brain, and hence may provide indications of biologically anchored clinically and socially relevant personality features.

    Levels of education were: less than high school 29 , high school graduate 19 , university degree 4. All participants were right-handed as confirmed by a standardised hand skill test. Individuals who reported having a neuropsychiatric disease or using psychoactive medication were not included in the study. Participants were requested to refrain from alcohol for twelve hours and from coffee and other stimulating beverages for two hours prior to their lab appointment, and to come to the session well rested. Informed consent was obtained from all participants. The questionnaire comprises eight subscales 6 items each capturing the propensity to use humour in the form of sarcasm e.

    The clips were matched for peak sound intensity and sound level range, and were presented over headphones. They have been used in several previous studies 25 , 26 , 27 , 28 , The displayed emotions are unambiguous and intense; healthy participants have no difficulties identifying and differentiating the expressed affective states 25 , All data were inspected visually, in order to eliminate intervals in which ocular or muscle artefacts occurred. Previous research on EEG coherence in the context of affective processing indicated that connectivity changes during evoked emotions occurred primarily in the beta frequency range 24 , 25 , 26 , 27 , 28 , 29 , 55 , 56 , Following previous relevant research 24 , 25 , 26 , 27 , 28 , 29 , 56 , coherence pairs were grouped into anatomically valid clusters corresponding to the left and right, prefrontal and posterior association cortex regions.

    Linear regressions were conducted using the EEG beta coherence during the neutral reference stimulus preceding the emotional stimulus to predict the coherence during listening to each of the emotional sound clips, in order to calculate residualised change scores cf. These were used as indexes of state-dependent relative decreases or increases of intra-hemispheric coherence in response to the social-emotional stimulation.

    This was done to ensure that the analysed residual variability was due to the experimental manipulation, and not to individual differences in baseline levels, and to control for measurement error inherent in the use of repeated measures of the same kind 58 , Negative scores indicate a relative decrease in prefrontal-posterior coherence, positive scores indicate a relative increase.

    Since previous research indicated strong right-hemisphere dominated effects of coherence changes in the context of emotional processing, the analysis focused on prefrontal-posterior coherence changes in the right hemisphere, and a separate supplemental set of regression analyses tested for potential effects in the left hemisphere cf. After completing the handedness test, participants were seated in an acoustically and electrically shielded examination room, and electrodes were attached.

    They were instructed to close their eyes, to direct their whole attention to the sound recordings, and to imagine that they were amidst the happenings. A two-minutes resting period preceded the stimulation. The order of emotional sounds was counterbalanced, and emotional and neutral sound clips were presented in alternating order, so that each emotional sound was preceded by the neutral sound i. Before each sound clip, the instructions were briefly repeated.

    The 8SHCS was completed in a separate test session. How to cite this article : Papousek, I. Publisher's note: Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations. The authors declare no competing financial interests.

    Author Contributions I. Data collection was performed by E.

    Good humor, bad taste : a sociology of the joke Good humor, bad taste : a sociology of the joke
    Good humor, bad taste : a sociology of the joke Good humor, bad taste : a sociology of the joke
    Good humor, bad taste : a sociology of the joke Good humor, bad taste : a sociology of the joke
    Good humor, bad taste : a sociology of the joke Good humor, bad taste : a sociology of the joke
    Good humor, bad taste : a sociology of the joke Good humor, bad taste : a sociology of the joke
    Good humor, bad taste : a sociology of the joke Good humor, bad taste : a sociology of the joke

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