From Thomas Hobbes' fear of the power of laughter to the compulsory, packaged "fun" of the contemporary mass media, Billig takes the reader on a stimulating tour of the strange world of humour. Both a significant work of scholarship and a novel contribution to the understanding of the humourous, this is a seriously engaging book' - David Inglis, University of Aberdeen This delightful book tackles the prevailing assumption that laughter and humour are inherently good. In developing a critique of humour the author proposes a social theory that places humour - in the form of ridicule - as central to social life. Billig argues that all cultures use ridicule as a disciplinary means to uphold norms of conduct and conventions of meaning. Historically, theories of humour reflect wider visions of politics, morality and aesthetics. For example, Bergson argued that humour contains an element of cruelty while Freud suggested that we deceive ourselves about the true nature of our laughter. Billig discusses these and other theories, while using the topic of humour to throw light on the perennial social problems of regulation, control and emancipation.

A Critique of Positive Humour

A critique of positive humour

It might be thought that the critique of humour could best be accomplished scientifically. One might compare common-sense beliefs with the most recent scientific evidence, in order to discover whether common sense rests upon assumptions that succeed in meeting the relevant empirical tests. Experimental psychology might be especially useful for helping to distinguish between the myth and reality of human laughter, its causes and its effects. This may be true up to a point. But beyond that point, which cannot be determined in advance, it is liable to be misleading. An essential part of critical theory, and possibly one of its important aspects, has been to look critically at the theories of experts, in order to ...

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