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Humour has typically been theorised as a coping mechanism or a 'weapon of the weak'. This panel will examine the ways that humour can be employed as a tool for highlighting systemic irresponsibility and failure, particularly for those who cannot rely on traditional justice systems.
Humour has typically been theorised as a coping mechanism or 'weapon of the weak'. Anthropologists have long analysed humour as is found in joking relationships, as recognition of kinship or other social bonds, or of its use in religion, amongst others. Existing work also positions humour as a tool of resistance for the disempowered, yet this often serves to reiterate the notion that one's subjugated position is inescapable and static, emphasising the futility of defiance.This panel examines how humour can illuminate systemic irresponsibility and failure particularly for, but not limited to, those unprotected by traditional justice systems including sex workers and undocumented migrants. The convenors invite discussion of the potential for humour to responsibilise the state or other parties for the production of symbolic and structural violence. We encourage papers that draw on ethnographic accounts of how humour can not only mediate failing social relations - or relations which produce subjugation and inequity - but serve to increase tensions by explicitly naming an unequal power relation as a failure in and of itself. We also invite papers that speak to the embodied process of telling jokes and laughter, its affective qualities, and the banal experiences of humour that inflect in informants' lives. Guided by these various facets of humour, this panel draws together widely ranging ethnographic work - which may have otherwise not entered into conversation with one another - to develop a deeper understanding of how the serious study of humour can significantly contribute to studies of failure, irresponsibility, and systemic violence.