Analysing Laughter

by YPU Admin on January 31, 2014. Tags: literature and Research


Hi, I am Alfie, a final year PhD student completing a thesis in Literature and Philosophy at the University of Manchester. My thesis discusses the social and political effects of laughter in various contexts, and the way that laughter can be used and deployed in texts such as literature and film. My other main project is a editing a collective blog and a series of books called Everyday Analysis, which attempts to bring together philosophy and everyday life in new and interesting ways.

I have been at the University of Manchester for eight years, having done an undergraduate degree and a Masters before my PhD.  I teach philosophy, literature and poetry at the University, and also at Manchester Metropolitan University and Liverpool John Moore’s University.

In Depth

Having studied my literature degree at Manchester, I became interested in comedy and laughter, not just in literature but in film, TV, and in general social life.  My interest is in the various ways that laughter can be used to produce things and affect people – the way it can be used to make people think and act in certain ways. Take someone like Boris Johnson for instance – and the way that we are all supposed to think of him as a silly old fool:

Newspapers and media productions which see themselves as liberal and critical of Boris and his right-wing ways all love to mock and joke about what an idiot he is. Take this example from The Huffington Post.

I look at how these approaches are often more complex than they seem. In Boris’s case for instance, he knows exactly what he is doing in painting himself in this way. Much like George Bush, who made jokes about his own silly Bushisms, Boris is ‘in on the joke.’ What Bush and Boris are doing is making a split – a split between the silly old sod who makes stupid mistakes and embarrasses himself publicly and the clever politician capable of seeing the funny side and doing serious and intelligent thinking and policy making. The sillier and stupider Boris makes himself seem to us, the most we are forced to assume that there must be another Boris – the serious and real politician. His silliness and use of joking makes it appear as though he is really a serious and successful man. Analysing the role of laughter in our world can reveal important political tricks and realities like this.

The other side of my work is a project to bridge the gap between academia and the rest of the world.  I run a collective project called Everyday Analysis which analyses everything from Justin Bieber to Angry Birds and The Gruffalo. On the blog and in our books, we analyse books, TV, film, toys, games, posters, signs, political acts and literally anything which can tell us something about the way we live in our society. We think some of the most important texts of our world are not those considered ‘highbrow’ or ‘art’ but are popular and everyday things that we engage with, usually without thinking  about critically.

Going Further

Have a look at the blog and follow us on Twitter or Facebook

My main project is available here.

There is also a book available here

You can see a bit more about studying laughter and jokes in a literary context here at the Journal of Victorian Culture. 

And you might also find the Everyday Sexism project interesting.

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