Skip to content
Main menu hidden.

Image: Magnus Nordström


Research group FemHum is a group of humour researchers who take a feminist approach. Much of our research examines humour from different perspectives of power relations. Our research fields are within linguistics, educational work and didactics of physics. We organise regular national symposia and seminars via Zoom. If you would like to find out more or receive our mailings, please contact Hanna Söderlund and she will add you to our mailing list.


Maria (Mia) Svensson – phraseology, figurative language, double meanings, puns, stereotypes and collocations.

Maria (Mia) Helena Svensson’s research is rooted in phraseology. Taking possible ways to define types of multiword expressions as her starting point, she has often ended up in figurative language via different categories (such as idioms and collocations). When the focus is on figurative language, her research often involves metaphor and metonymy. In these cases, she has encountered ambiguity and double meanings. From here, it is only a short step to word play. One place where she looks for concrete examples of various puns is publications that include jokes and humour, and suddenly she finds herself working as a humour researcher. When she then reads these publications, stereotypes – such as what is perceived as male or female – jump out at her. Jokes involving words for men and women are clearly polarised, as can be seen in the word combinations (collocations) used, and this takes her back to where she started: multiword expressions. Then it’s simply a case of going round again.

Find out more about Maria (Mia) Svensson's research

Karin Milles, professor of Swedish at Södertörn University (language and gender, sociolinguistics, creative writing).

Karin Milles usually applies a feminist and gender studies perspective to her research questions. In recent years, she has taken a particular interest in how feminists use language to promote their issues. Two current projects relate to feminist embroidery activism and pronoun use in schools. She has previously carried out a project on how the Guytalk conversation method can create more inclusive masculinity.

Milles’ research has involved both contemporary linguistic work – such as when feminists use norm-creative pronouns that avoid specifically male references – and how suffragettes taught their fellow sisters about meeting techniques a hundred years ago.

She has published articles about how feminist neologisms can increase women’s sexual agency. She has also published a handbook on speaking and writing in a gender-equal way, and a textbook on language and gender.

Hanna Söderlund, senior lecturer in Swedish (humour, power and gender)

Hanna Söderlund has investigated how power and gender are negotiated through humour in studio discussions about skiing on Swedish television, and on the humorous TV panel show Parlamentet. Using humour makes it possible to achieve a powerful position when others laugh at a joke. Hanna’s research reveals a tendency for female comedians or ski experts to encounter resistance when entering the conversation and receiving responses to their jokes. Women thus find it more difficult to appear competent and humorous in their professional roles on television than men do. The sense of community that arises between men is something that women seem to miss out on.

Hanna has also investigated how disability is negotiated in conversations and the use of humour in feminist embroideries posted on social media.

Find out more about Hanna Söderlund's research

Didactics of physics

Maria Berge, senior lecturer in science and technology education (humour, norms and patterns of interaction).

Maria Berge’s research aims to enhance the quality of science and technology education, with a particular focus on norms related to interactional patterns as well as identity and power structures.

An example of this is her analyses of how engineering students studying physics or solve sustainability problem together. Another example is her analysis of supervision within life science. This research revealed that the students’ and researchers’ humour contributed to how local norms about how to ‘talk science’ became established in their interaction, norms that were clearly interrelated to norms in science education. Laughter made norms of science explicit in the conversation, thus possible to learn. As cultural norms precede us, we are shaped by those norms; but at the same time while we embody those norms as we become part of culture, new unimagined possibilities of doing may emerge and be enacted.

Find out more about Maria Berge's research

Pedagogical work

Katarina Kärnebro, senior lecturer in educational work at the Department of Education.

Katarina is interested in how humour and jokes are used to maintain traditional gender balances in the school environment. Her thesis investigated how upper secondary school students on the male-coded vehicle and transport programme converse with each other to stage identities and negotiate norms and power. This study was based on an ethnographically oriented conversation analysis and student interviews with both boys and girls from four different classes.

The results show that language practices on the vehicle and transport programme are characterised by being confrontational, direct and joking, and that these help to reinforce stereotypical ideas about masculinity and heterosexuality. Joking was used to create a bold and independent identity at individual or group level. Part of this involved formulating jokes on the edges of social acceptability, and so sexist and homophobic jokes were commonplace and were deemed to be particularly amusing. Students with a high status within the community of practice were happy to use students with lower status as the butt of their jokes. These verbal attacks were rarely questioned, as they would be explained away as jokes. As these jokes were created collectively and collaboratively, it was also hard for teachers to tell who was responsible when the jokes went in a particular direction. Students mostly perceived joking as positive, as it created a sense of community, but it could also contribute towards creating hierarchies between students in hidden ways.

Overall, the study shows that language practices on the programme contributed towards creating normative expectations regarding gender, sexuality and social class. These expectations had a significant negative impact on students’ agency within the community of practice, and some difficulties arose – particularly for those students who wanted to focus on their schoolwork.

Find out more about Katarina Kärnebro's research.

Head of research

Hanna Söderlund
Associate professor


Participating departments and units at Umeå University

Department of Language Studies

Research area

Education, Language studies, Physical sciences
Latest update: 2023-04-11