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Laughter and Ridicule

Laughter and Ridicule
Towards a Social Critique of Humour

First Edition

October 2005 | 272 pages | SAGE Publications Ltd
`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
Superiority Theories
Hobbes and other Misogelasts

Incongruity Theories and Gentlemanly Laughter
Victorian Relief Theory
Bergson and the Function of Humour
Freud and the Hidden Secrets of Jokes
Laughter and Unlaughter
Embarrassment, Humour and the Social Order
Final Remarks

'Laughter and Ridicule' is definitely an interesting and important addition to humor research in that it provides grounds for a more critical approach to the subject.
However, you may claim that Billig gets rather one-sided in his approach to humor. You can, of course, counter that claim by arguing that it can’t be no different, regarding Billig’s purpose. Still, it affects the historical examination of humor (which is a large part of the book) and for that reason I will use different sources for this part of my course. When it comes to presenting the students to more critical views on humor, I will, on the other hand, most definitely introduce them to Billig's theories.

Mr Rasmus Lund
Communications, Aarhus University
August 6, 2017

Although the book was well written, unfortunately I dont think its suitable for the class I am teaching.

Mr Mark Timoney
Humanities , Sligo Institute of Technology
June 12, 2012

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