Laughter, bodies and the evolution of morality 
Camilla Power (University of East London)
Morna Finnegan
Cognition and evolution
Examination Schools Room 10
Start time:
20 September, 2018 at 14:15 (UTC+0)
Session slots:

Short Abstract:

Did morality evolve through Bakhtinian cultures of laughter expressed through the collective (female) body? Is the 'morality' of hierarchical societies in fact anti-morality for egalitarian societies, a result of - and attempt to justify - the failure to share properly?

Long Abstract

This session invites papers across disciplines to connect to the Bakhtinian theme of "cultures of laughter" in which "the drama of bodily life" privileges sex, growth, birth, blood, eating and defecation. We aim to consider what role the "material bodily principle" played in the evolutionary emergence of morality. What did such an original morality feel like arising from the subversive power of this collective body?

We take it that, if the body is not sacred, nothing is. How is morality seeded in the body from birth as infants begin to experience the shared contact valued by adults? How is this inculcated subsequently as children grow up through corporeal metaphors and practices like ekila, moadjo, epeme and n/om? The community dances of egalitarian hunter-gatherers reinforce the collective body, through which the moral necessity of sharing power - not just food - is vividly expressed.

The communal labour of distributing social power done by 'speaking bodies' in a Bakhtinian ritual dialogue invokes kinetic interchange of bodily fluids and sexual energies. Typically, African hunter-gatherers resist shrinkage to the private, isolated and narrowly individual through ritual cultures of laughter, ribald and antiphonal, provoking the sexual opposition. What may be obscured by a 'moral' veil in hierarchical cultures - protective especially of male dominance and dignities -is let loose resoundingly by female collective and polyphonic signals of bawdy resistance. Is it possible that the 'moral' values of a hierarchical world, in its failing to laugh, is in fact an anti-morality attempting to justify the failure to share properly?

Accepted papers: