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Accepted Paper:

The power of ridicule: laughter, knowledge and politics in Tehran, Johannesburg and Berlin  

Authors:

Mirco Göpfert (Goethe University Frankfurt)
Melanie Brand (University of Konstanz)
Cassis Kilian (Johannes Gutenberg-Universität)

Paper short abstract:

Together with cartoonists in Tehran, stand-up comedians in Berlin and satirical authors in Johannesburg, we explore humour as an epistemic practice of the political. We focus on those moments that reveal what can and cannot be said, where funny ends and serious begins.

Paper long abstract:

It is getting more and more difficult to distinguish serious from funny. How much of Boris Johnson's demeanour is deliberate self-ridicule? How much of satirical news formats like The Daily Show and Last Week Tonight is clownery, how much investigative journalism? Neoliberalism, urbanisation, migration, new technologies and especially the surge in populist politics produce uncountable social, cognitive and economic dissonances and disparities bordering the absurd. For cartoonists, comedians and satirists, observing these dissonances is an important tool for creating powerful punchlines seeking to make sense of and ridicule the status quo. (Ask Trevor Noah or John Oliver!) What artists identify to be of noteworthy ridiculous potential differs according to specific socio-political configurations. Together with cartoonists in Tehran, stand-up comedians in Berlin and satirical authors in Johannesburg, we explore humour as an epistemic practice of the political. In particular, we focus on the space between funny and serious: those moments that reveal what can and cannot be said, where silly ends and offensive begins. We argue that by bringing artists and anthropologists together, a collaborative exploration of humour sheds light on political configurations in the contemporary world far beyond the general assumption of, for example, repression in Tehran, cosmopolitanism in Berlin and postcolonial dis/entanglements in Johannesburg. Moreover, breaking with the privileged role of serious academic knowledge production it can also have an immense impact on the epistemic potential of anthropology. Or not.

Panel Irre05b
Laughing at the system: highlighting absurdity and failure through humour