Society for Medical Anthropology
Oral Presentation Session
Abstract: As the old saying goes, laughter is the best medicine. Yet, scientific studies of the impact of humor on health have had mixed results, with some scholarship highlighting the benefits of humor on physical and mental health and other scholarship warns of the inappropriateness of humor in several medical contexts (Pinna et al. 2018). While the anthropological study of humor has a long history (e.g., Mauss 2013 ; Radcliffe-Brown 1940; Handelman & Kapferer 1972; Apte 1985), there remains little anthropological scholarship on the role of humor in medical and health contexts. This panel seeks to highlight how anthropological theory and methods can inform understandings of humor, health, and medicine, and potentially contribute to broader public and/or medical understandings of the role of humor, joking, and laughter in health and medicine.
Humor and joking are common phenomena across human societies, yet there is no accepted single scholarly definition of “humor.” As Henk Driessen (2015) notes, “humor is omnipresent yet elusive, nonsensical yet serious, friendly yet aggressive or hostile, universal yet specific. Humor and joking are part of the human condition yet may differ from time to time, place to place, and even from person to person” (416). How does humor shape patient experiences of illness? What are the ways providers use humor and joking, and how does it shape their practices? How does health-related humor circulate in non-medical settings, such as social media? What are the relationships among humor, morality, affect, and aesthetics? The papers in this panel utilize anthropological theory and methods to draw attention to the “universal-yet-relativeness” of humor as it appears in health and medical contexts in North and South America.
Apte, Mahadev L. 1985. Humor and Laughter: An Anthropological Approach. Ithica, NY: Cornell University Press.
Driessen, Henk. 2015. Humor, Anthropology of. In International Encyclopedia of the Social & Behavioral Sciences, eds. N. J. Smelser & P. B. Baltes. Oxford, UK: Elsevier. 416-419.
Handelman, Don & Bruce Kapferer. 1972. Forms of Joking: A Comparative Approach. American Anthropologist 74(3): 484-517.
Mauss, Marcel. 2013 . Joking Relations. HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory 3(2): 321 -334.
Pinna, Miguel Ángel Cuervo et al. 2018. The Use of Humor in Palliative Care: A Systematic Literature Review. American Journal of Hospice & Palliative Medicine 35(10): 1342-1354.
Radcliffe-Brown, A. R. 1940. On Joking Relationships. Africa: Journal of the International Africa Institute 13(3): 195-210.