Invitation to Workshop on Gender, Laughter and Humour Across Cultures and Time, Umeå University, Sweden, December 8-9, 2012
Laughter, its meaning and propriety have continuously occupied the mind of philosophers, moralists and dramatists since at least Antiquity. In a modern context, laughter is typically associated with humour and joy, but not all laughter is the fruit of the former and even less so the latter.
In a long historical tradition, laughter has on the contrary been associated with ridicule, degradation and the vulgarity of the lower classes. As such, laughter’s rebellious and disciplining force has been both recognized and feared. The notion of laughter as a positive physical expression associated with harmless joy is, at least in the Western world, a modern construct with a short history.
Humour has in a similar way often been defined as playing on matters that are ‘taboo’ and the reversal of social order. For Simon Critchley (On Humour 2002:10), jokes are ‘a play on form where what is played with is the accepted powers of a given society’. At the same time, humour and its manifestations in literature, performance and visual culture have also been used as the medium of discipline, ridicule or even degradation. Therefore, according to most theorists of humour, jokes have the power to both strengthen bonds within groups and cast off and marginalize what is socially incorrect or unacceptable by mocking it.
At this workshop, we will look at the social aspects and ambiguous meanings of laughter and humour in a variety of historical and cultural contexts, with a particular focus on gender and emotion. So far the cultural history of laughter and humour has mostly been studied from the perspective of social class and popular culture, while gendered aspects have been represented in studies of cuckoldry and women on top, to list but a few examples. We wish to broaden this perspective further. Emotions have on the other hand not been in focus to the same extent. Laughter and humour can express and evoke a broad range of emotions. We want to cover the whole spectrum from joy to embarrassment and aggressiveness.
UCGS (Umeå Center for Gender Studies) in collaboration with UGPS (Umeå Group for Premodern Studies) and CHEP (Cultural History of Emotions in Premodernity) at Umeå University invites you to participate in this workshop. The focus is multi-layered; questions involve how laughter, ridicule and jokes, visual, performative or literary, institutionalized and marginal, communicate gendered meanings and express and evoke various emotions.
We welcome all inquiries from a broad multidisciplinary perspective on topics including:•The power of gender-based laughter and humour to challenge symbolic authorities across time and cultures; •How laughter and humour have been employed in narratives and performances as a disciplining tool in enforcing gender norms;•Visual and bodily aspects of gender-based humour and laughter;•Political satires and parodies•Joking relationships like raillery, banter and romping;•Ridicule and embarrassment; •Joke, humour and laughter as a way of psychological manipulation;