Laughter and joking from contestation to protection to forging relationships

Laure Carbonnel's picture
Call for Papers
February 28, 2018
Subject Fields: 
African History / Studies, Anthropology, Art, Art History & Visual Studies, Islamic History / Studies, Social Sciences

Laughter and joking from contestation to protection to forging relationships

Katja Gentric (contemporary art), Laure Carbonnel (anthropology)

Uncountable forms of joking and laughter resound on the African continent oscillating between sense and the nonsensical, farce and tragedy, popularity and avoidance, joy and suffering. Tricksters or ritual clowns, joking relationships, satirical press, political caricatures, satire in ritual ceremonies or in entertainment. Their authors are of a wide variety as are the forms they chose: theatre plays or talk-shows, comic strips or cartoons, films and videos, publicities, contemporary artist's performances. What transpires out of these forms of communication?

Always ambivalent, laughter and the habit of poking fun can be understood in many different ways. The tradition of joking relationships between different social categories or family groups has served as case study for the structural analysis of hierarchical orders; the moral value of these obscene insults has been questioned by foreign observers while their role in peace keeping has been claimed in political discourse (Canut and Smith 2006). Joking and laughter are known to facilitate the integration of strangers but likewise have the power to exclude a third party; they can create feeling of belonging as much as they have the power to reproduce inequalities and social differences (Reichl and Stein, 2005). Laughter in particular seems to have a universal dimension while is nevertheless culturally defined (Isaak 1997).

Given the general theme Afriques enchantées, Afriques en chantiers, (Enchanted Africas or the notion “Africa” as construction site) of the 2018 “Rencontres des Études Africaines en France” the objective of this panel is to describe and analyse the fine line between intentions and opposing effects in the way that forms are created and produce a particular sense. Laughter and joking are never unambiguous, as they emerge from the persons present and from the situation (Handelman et al 1972, Carty et al 2008). We call for papers drawing on precise case studies in order to be attentive to tonalities or the ability of the concerned to seize one sense amongst multiple possible significations. How to provoke laughter and what does laughter provoke? (Schnurr  2008)  The aim would be to resituate the form and the sense of laughter, of gestures or words and the ecology of the situations from which they emerge. Burlesque or witticism, what makes us laugh, why would we want to create ambivalent situations, which affective and interpretative dynamics are involved?  Attention will be paid to what joking and laughter divides and what it draws closer together as for example generation gaps, genders, alterity, values, in the way these particularities are expressed as well as in their contents. Art history, anthropology, sociology, literature, psychology, philosophy, history, media studies are all welcome.


C. Canut et E. Smith, « Pactes, alliances et plaisanteries. Pratiques locales, discours global », Cahiers d’études africaines 46 (184), 2006

J. Carty et Y. Musharbash, “You've Got to be Joking: Asserting the Analytical Value of Humour and Laughter in Contemporary Anthropology”, Anthropological Forum 18 (3), 2008, p. 209-217

D. Handelman, B. Kapferer, “Forms of Joking Activity: A Comparative Approach”, American Anthropologist 74 (3), 1972, p 484-517

J.A. Isaak, Women laughter Feminism and contemporary art: the revolutionary power of women's laughter, Routledge, London, 1997

S. Reichl, Mark Stein (dir.), Cheeky Fictions, Laughter and the Postcolonial, Radopi, Amsterdam, New York, 2005

A. Schnurr, Über das Werk von Timm Ulrichs und den Künstlerischen Witz als Erkenntnisform, Analyse eines pointierten Vermittlungs- und Erfahrungsmodells im Kontext ästhetischer Bildung, Dortmunder Schriften zur Kunst, Dortmund, 2008

Contact Info: 

Abstracts (500 words) must be submit before the 28th february both

- using the conference online form

- and they to our e-mail : and