Humour and Resilience in the Face of (everyday) Global Challenges

J B Priestley Room 3rd Floor Staff House.
Thursday 7 February 2019 (09:30-16:30)

This workshop has a guest list, but if you are interested in a place please email


WORKSHOP LEADERS: Dr Laura Martin, History and Cultures, and Dr Stephen Forcer, Languages, Cultures, Art History and Music

On paper, humour might seem to be a frivolous non-subject. Humour is not quantifiable in scientific terms and, while it does relate to different academic disciplines, it is often treated as a spinoff, or altogether ignored in favour of more ‘serious’ subject matter.

At the same time, humour is universal; it is exists in every culture throughout the world. It is a pan-historical phenomenon that has been fundamental to some of the greatest feats of human creativity and experience, from major works of culture to survival in concentration camps. Humour is good for us – ethically, creatively and politically, as well as physiologically through the recognised health benefits provided by regular laughter.

Embracing the huge interdisciplinary potential of humour, this IAS workshop seeks to bring together scholars from a very broad range of disciplines – arts and humanities, social science, international development, psychology (political and cognitive) and neurology – in pursuit of three key questions:

  1. How is humour understood and engaged with in different areas of study?
  2. How can humour be used to resist or alleviate live real-world problems?
  3. What is humour, in academic terms?

The key premise of this workshop is that there is a strong but under-exploited relationship between humour and resilience. Defined here as positive adaptation in the face of adversity, resilience is the lens through which we seek to analyse humour. Research on resilience is often technocratic and generalised, but there is little that explores how everyday interpersonal exchanges can also contribute to resilience frameworks. Thus, humour is more than just a form of ‘coping’: it is a way of reframing narratives and (re)acquiring agency over experience and memory in times of crisis. In this sense, then, humour is powerfully cognitive in that it shapes the ways in which particular experiences are negotiated, discussed and remembered (a further philosophical implication here is that there may be no ‘essence’ to an experience). Conversely, to what extent is an absence of humour relevant within susceptibility to mental illness (depression, anger) or to collective destructive states (totalitarianism, conflict, genocide)? What positive role is played by humour within reconciliation and transitional justice? How are humour and resilience effective in everyday life? And what can humour tell us about human problems – whether everyday and/ or global – that ‘serious’ approaches cannot?

Guiding themes will include:

  • Physical and Psychological Impacts of Humour
  • Humour, Conflict, Violence and Resistance
  • The Translation and Transmission of Humour
  • Humour and Group Culture
  • Comedy, Satire, and Humour as Ethics