In Praise of Folly: Laughter and Social Rebirth

Term: Spring 2012

Subject Code: GANT

Course Number: 6150

Since the discipline’s inception, the trickster has been a ubiquitous figure in anthropological thought—long known as the one who upends worlds, quite often by turning to the power of humor. Equally, Radcliffe-Brown initiated a broad research paradigm in kinship studies with his short piece entitled “On Joking Relationships.” Building off of these benchmark studies, this course delves into the theory of laughter. To do so, the course will turn to Vico, Nietzsche, Bakhtin and Bataille, all of whom centrally connected laughter with the ebb and flow of political and moral life. In particular, they focused on the power of laughter to potentially demolish hierarchy, or even to move beyond hierarchy as such. Often, this demolishing laughter was envisioned as a revolutionary movement that could help usher in a new society out of one that was deemed to be in collapse. Throughout our interrogation of these authors and others (e.g., Bergson, Cixous, Derrida), we will read ethnographies that have placed laughter at the center of their inquiry. In the era of The Daily Show, this course will ponder the power of laughter to remake the world, and anthropology’s ability to depict it.

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