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IPP Workshop Series | Somaye Rezaei: An Introduction to Critical Humor Studies


Jan 31, 2023 from 02:00 to 04:00 (Europe/Berlin / UTC100)



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What is funny?

What is (political, dark, German, ethnic…) humor?

How does humor contribute to dissent?


In order to answer such questions, scholars have theorized the concept and functions of humor over the centuries. Humor is discussed in philosophy, psychology, sociology, literary and cultural studies, and, more recently, it has been established as a field of linguistics. In the first part of this workshop, after a brief discussion of the traditional theories on humor, we will proceed to examine humor as a cultural practice. Different disciplines have approached humor on the basis of its features (ambiguity, exaggeration, understatement, etc. as in literary studies or linguistics), functions (to amuse, to criticize, to establish superiority, etc. as in psychology), or subjects (ethnicity, gender, politics, etc. as in cultural and gender studies) (Nilsen & Nilsen, 2-3). The emergent field of critical humor studies specifically deals with ‘subjects’ of humor and analytically approaches discourse(s) on/of such subjects to study the ways in which power is enacted, reproduced and resisted through humor.


In the second part of the workshop, we will work in pairs or small groups on examples of jokes, sketches, etc. from contemporary American late-night shows. By considering the features and functions of humor, we will explore the ways in which humor negotiates and addresses subjects such as racial prejudice (e.g. police brutality), gender inequality (e.g. abortion ban) or class discrimination (e.g. homelessness) in the United States. Through the lenses of critical humor studies, the participants are invited to reflect on humor as a (counter)discursive measure for (re)negotiation and deconstruction of power relations in social and cultural contexts.


Recommended reading:

Morreall, John. "No Laughing Matter: The Traditional Rejection of Humor and Traditional Theories of Humor." Comic Relief: A Comprehensive Philosophy of Humor, 2009, pp 1-24.


Works Cited:

Nilsen, Don LF, and Alleen Pace Nilsen. The Language of Humor: An Introduction. Cambridge University Press, 2018.


The IPP Workshop Series

It offers IPP members the opportunity to lead a workshop on current concepts and methods in the Study of culture. The aim of the series is to create an interactive discussion group for doctoral candidates and students. The topics can range from general introductions to various "schools" of literary and cultural theory to concepts, methods and topics of literary and cultural theory.