Stripping the Skin off Humour

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Massey University
Culturally specific hegemonic processes produce authority over meaning and exclude possibilities for authentic ethical encounters. Contingent on a binary relationship between ‘self’ and ‘other’, humour holds social tensions in particular ways. Where contemporary understandings of humour tend to posit humour as self-evidently desirable (Billig, 2005), there is an absence of psychological attention to the social power relations that constitute the “performativity” of humour – or as Butler (1993, p. 2) suggests, “the reiterative power of discourse to produce the phenomena that it regulates and constrains”. This paper draws on the experience of living the contradictions of hegemonic discourse that produces social positions where laughter is enacted to enable a ‘safe’ encounter. If humour occurs on the boundaries of social convention then what does that mean for the complex relationships at “the hyphen” (Fine & Sirin, 2007; Jones & Jenkins, 2008) between us/them? Is it possible that rather than simply maintaining a particular social order, humour may also enable a re-defining of the contours of social relations? Could humour open spaces at the boundaries through recognition of multiple competing political discourses and make it possible for an ethical response that seeks authentic encounters with the ‘other’?
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Ethical responses, Humour, Hegemony, Ideological positivism, Performativity, Hyphenated selves