Fieldwork assignment I humor option

Humor as group performance and a form of enculturation
Fieldwork and writing or video assignment I
Option 1: Due Oct. 20
Read one of the articles provided on the wiki (fieldwork assignment 1) pertaining to
humor and joking
Folklorist Alan Dundes writes that if you want to know “what is really on a people’s collective mind, there is no
more direct and accurate way of finding out than by paying attention to precisely what it is making the people
laugh.” A study of humor is essentially an exploration of a particular type of cultural language. In this fieldwork
assignment pay attention to the use of humor in your study group. In your notations of jokes or humor events,
include a description of the contexts (who, what, when, where, why, how etc.) of the humor performance
events. What is revealed about how participants confront their reality by distorting, disguising, enlarging and
exaggerating its dimensions through the language of humor? What is on the collective mind of those
participating in the humor events described in your journal? Are people strengthening social relationships? Are
they resisting in some way? Are there particular kinds of jokes people tell more than others? Who laughs? Who
Some “food for thought” about humor, but there is a lot more to be said about the cultural and social
importance of humor as enculturating and revealing.
Humor is a way of finding connections between a group’s concerns and issues because comedy and social change
are intertwined. Also, forging or initiating intimacy is an essential ingredient and purpose of humor. Laughter
forges ties between people, binding those who laugh together.
Humor and laughter are often used as social lubricants - the positive effects include:
 to make friends
 to ingratiate
 to get on with people we don't like
 to help others feel less embarrassed
 to alleviate tension
 etc.
Humor and laughter can be used to ridicule, satirize, offend and belittle - the negative effect - we don't take
seriously someone whose arguments and personality are ridiculed successfully.
Humor is a living, dynamic organism that transforms with the changes in social context. The study of humor is the
study of a type of cultural language that is often particular to a subculture.
-organizes and correlates experiences
-seeks to create order and meaning
-strives to clarify the vague
-translates social awareness and experiences into folk stories
-creates a communal conscience
-binds generations
-enables individuals to make or strengthen a social connection
Humor is universal, but is bound by cultural codes
According to Giles and Oxford there are seven categories of humor and laughter (you may think of and observe
- social
- anxious
- derisive
- apologetic
- humorous
- ignorant
- tickled
In observing humor in your study group, it is important to know who says what to whom and at whose
expense. If present, a victim of a joke has some choices.
 He or she can join in the laughter, meeting the joker in reciprocal laughter.
 Perhaps by joining in, the significance of the joke is diminished.
 The victim can ignore the joke and remain silent.
 The victim can respond with a counter joke so that the victim and the joker exchange roles, like a fencing
 The victim can proceed to a verbal or physical assault. He/she can ‘thrash’ the joker and the person who
laughs. This depends on cultural customs and the verbal or bodily strength of the victim.
There is a political framework of power relationships between the joker, the people who laugh and the
victim, if there is one.
Many groups have ‘jesters’ of sorts. Does your study group? Historically, the court jester entertained the mighty with
jokes at the expense of people who were usually less mighty than the host, but more mighty than the jester. The
jester was immune from retaliation in this case.
Professional comedians can be jesters. They can say things publicly, in the context of comedy, which others cannot.
Comedians are often protected by the power of public opinion because of their role. If the more powerful members
in a culture group censor or punish the comedian, as they do in oppressive regimes, the power and freedom of
public opinion is curtailed or abolished. If those in power persecute whispered jokes, they may be shutting down an
outlet for frustration and so acting in a way counterproductive to their own desire to protect their power. "In real
mutinies, ridicule and laughter stop."
Whispered jokes are not necessarily indicative of resistance. They may be safety valves to reduce frustrations. They
can serve as a psychological alibi and a way to live more easily with one's own failure to protest.
Of course there are jokes to soothe and jokes to calm, peacemaking jokes, and jokes about self. How do they fit into
the social fabric of a group? The Apache say that jokes are always dangerous because if they are misinterpreted as
‘not a joke’ they become offensive.
Do any of these observations apply to the humor situations you observed in your study group? What are some
deeper cultural meanings of what you observed?
The goal is to write or video a description of your observations of humor use in the group you are studying.
Discuss how humor (or lack of humor if that is the case) is part of performing culture, limit-setting, a way
of identifying and articulating right and wrong behavior, enculturating, part of group identity, etc.,
etc. Utilize the theoretical and descriptive information in the article you chose from the wiki to enhance
your own observations and analysis (what does it all mean?).