Society for Medical Anthropology
Oral Presentation Session
How do you create a group of people to fight against unknown emergencies? What are the characteristic habits and habitus of the Emergency Medical Technician, or their structural role in the complex web of healthcare professionals, and how do modalities of self-fashioning and kin-making train certain individuals in these roles? Drawing upon a year of fieldwork with a group of EMT instructors, I demonstrate that humor and jokes are critical to cultivating EMT expertise and subjectivity. Where emergencies can be conceptualized as a kind of unknown “horizon” (Petryna, 2015) that EMTs must be prepared for, training becomes a simulacrum of such liminal zones. While simulations that replicate actual accidents like car accidents do take place, I show that much quotidian work of adjusting trainees to the liminal zone, of preparing them for the “threshold” (Jusionyte, 2018), occurs through the a/effective technology of jokes. Trainers deploy gender stereotypes and kinship norms in order to select and transform outsiders whom they deem worthy of acceptance into the “brotherhood.” Yet they constantly and humorously remind trainees of their contingent “insider” status. By analyzing specific pedagogies, jokes, and awkward laughter in an EMT school, I show how the dialectics of male/female, parent/child, and life/death come to modulate the “joking relations” (Mauss, 2013) of EMT families. I suggest that such jokes – often dark and misogynistic – becomes diagnostic of the co-constitution of violence and care in kinship and biomedical emergency response.