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.

Bergson and the Function of Humour

Bergson and the function of humour

The turn of the twentieth century was a grand time for theories of humour. The books by Sully and Dugas on the psychology of laughter appeared in 1902. Both writers found plenty of recent psychological research to review. The new century also saw the publication of the two most original books in the history of theories of humour – Henri Bergson's Laughter (1900) and Freud's Jokes and their Relation to the Unconscious (1905b). It is easy to suppose that this éclat of humour-theory reflected the gaiety of the times. In the popular imagination, this was a brief interregnum between the stuffiness of the nineteenth century and the murderous warfare of the new era. The ...

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