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.

Embarrassment, Humour and the Social Order

Embarrassment, humour and the social order

Humour is universal. That much has already been asserted. But assertion is not sufficient for theoretical analysis. Reasons have to be given to account for this universality. If laughter is rhetorical, as was argued in the previous chapter, then the universality of humour is not to be satisfactorily explained in biological terms. It does not take us far to say that humour is culturally universal because humans are biologically equipped to laugh. The social practices of laughter and its relations to the cultural specificities of humour will still need explication. The question, then, will be why all societies have social codes of laughter and humour.

An alternative way of accounting for the universality of humour ...

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