Humor, power and politics (Aix

Call for papers for the symposium

Humor, power and politics

Aix-Marseille University, Schuman Campus

October 19-20, 2023

At the heart of the debates on humor that sometimes agitate our liberal societies arises the question of the existence of the sacred – and of the impunity of those who make fun of it and make fun of it. “Can we laugh at everything? “. Yes, answer the proponents of uncompromising freedom of expression. “Nothing is sacred. […] No idea, no statement, no belief should escape criticism, derision, ridicule, humour, parody, caricature, counterfeiting,” argues the essayist Raoul Vaneigem (2015: 28). “Yes, but not with just anyone,” the humorist Pierre Desproges once replied with more circumspection, in his indictment against Jean-Marie le Pen at the Court of flagrant delusions[1].

This raises the question of the links between humor, power and politics, and thereby the relationship of the humorist to the dominant, to the norm, to institutions, to good taste, to good practices, etc. This, while the common meaning of the term humor – defined as a “mocking form of wit which draws attention, with detachment, to the pleasant or unusual aspects of reality” (Computerized French language treasury, sv) – would rather suggest a certain distance from political and societal aspects. From a linguistic point of view, the ambivalence between mockery and pleasant aspects lies in the fact that humor – and the laughter which is very often associated with it – creates complicity between interlocutors, associated with an enunciative stall allowing the person who speaks of disengaging and defusing a remark that may be perceived as aggressive (“but no, I was joking”; “it was just for fun!”). In discourse analysis, a polyphonic reading of humor makes it possible to show how humor results from the co-occurrence of several voices within the same utterance, explaining the humorist’s detachment (Priego-Valverde 2003; Rabatel 2013).

Despite this form of detachment, humor is anything but harmless: creating collusion with some also means excluding others, a weapon frequently used in political contests (Charaudeau 2013). One of the oldest theories on humor is that of superiority (also called hostility or derision), defended from Aristotle to Billig (2005): it considers humor as a form of aggression against a target which may be the speaker in person (self-mockery), the interlocutor or even a third party.

Nor should the generic term humor mislead about the multifunctional and multifaceted nature of the phenomena it covers. The many related notions (comedy, satire, irony, amusement, etc.) form a “lexical galaxy” (Chabanne 2002) and raise numerous labeling questions (see Attardo 2020: 7‑14). It is precisely the plural forms taken by the “politically incorrect” (Prak-Derrington & Dias, in press) of humor that this study day intends to question.

By explicitly associating humor with the notions of power and politics, we intend to highlight, on the one hand, the role of humor in public discourse and the organization of life in society (in the broad sense of politics) and, on the other hand, the power relations that it induces between the communication partners, whether individuals or groups. In the serious period of crisis (democratic, environmental, geopolitical) that we are currently going through, the need is more crying than ever “to suspend, the moment of the game, the anguish of the fatality of the world” (Charaudeau 2006: 22) .

As far as public discourse is concerned, we know that there are certainly established genres of humor (joke, stand-up, one-man/woman show, etc.), but humor is far from being confined to these spaces. . We will therefore focus in particular on the cases where humor becomes a non-established discursive strategy. Humorous strategies make it possible in particular to capture attention and conceal the persuasive aim of these same speeches (Soulages 2006). In this sense, we can take an interest in different fields (politics, economy, culture, advertising, didactics, etc.), or in new communication formats such as digital social networks (viral humorous content, memes, etc.).

The use of humor in these different contexts tends to suspend the principles of cooperation which are sincerity, relevance, clarity and quantity (so-called communication no bona fide, Raskin 1984). We will therefore be interested in the way in which humor reconfigures the balance of power between the people concerned, whether they produce humor or are the target of it (Marseille humor vs. humor about the people of Marseilles, see Gasquet-Cyrus 2004; Gasquet-Cyrus & Planchenault 2019). We can wonder about humor as a weapon of resistance (for example Camarade & Goepper 2019; Rodrigues & Collinson 2015) or about its capacity to reinforce a group culture or to isolate a group: we speak for example of the youth humor (Coupland 2004) or women’s humor as opposed to men’s (Kotthof 1996; Holmes et al. 2001; Greengross 2020), but sociolinguistic studies on the subject need to be deepened (see Attardo 2020: 309 ). And in general, we can take into consideration the way in which humor contributes to the construction of the image of male and female speakers (see Priego-Valverde 2007 on self-mockery).

Proposals for communication may relate, without exclusivity, to one or more of the aspects mentioned. A contrasting Franco-German perspective as well as reflections on other linguistic and cultural areas are also welcome. The work resulting from this day will give rise to a publication after expertise. Interested persons are invited to submit a contribution proposal in French of approximately 300 to 500 words, as well as a short biographical note by March 1, 2023.

Venue : Aix-Marseille University, Schuman Campus, Multimedia Center – 29, avenue Robert Schuman, Aix-en-Provence.

Date : October 19 and 20, 2023.

contacts :;;

Bibliography elements

Ader Basile (2015), “The gender laws of humorous discourse”, in: Patrick Charaudeau (ed), Humor and political commitmentLimoges, Lambert-Lucas, 183-196.

Attardo Salvatore (2020), The Linguistics of Humor: An IntroductionOxford, NY: Oxford University Press.

Billig Michael (2005), Laughter and Ridicule: Towards a Social Critique of HumorLondon, Thousand Oaks, New Dehli: SAGE.

Chabanne Jean-Charles (2002), The comic: constituted anthology and accompanied readingParis: Gallimard.

Comrade Hélène & Goepper Sibylle (2019), The words of the GDRToulouse: University Presses of the South.

Charaudeau Patrick (2006), “Categories for humour? », Communications Matters 10, 19-41.

Charaudeau Patrick (2013), “The scathing weapon of irony and mockery in the 2012 presidential debate”, Language and society 146, 35-47.

Charaudeau Patrick (ed) (2015), Humor and political commitmentLimoges: Lambert-Lucas.

Coupland Nikolas (2004), “Age in Social and Sociolinguistic Theory”, in JF Nussbaum & J. Coupland (ed.), Handbook of Communication and Aging ResearchNew York: Routledge, 89-110.

Gasquet-Cyrus Mederic (2004), Practices and representations of verbal humor. Sociolinguistic study of the Marseille case (doctoral thesis), University of Aix-Marseille I, Marseille.

Freud Sigmund (1905), The joke and its relation to the unconscious, trans. from German by D. Messier, Paris, Gallimard, 1988. (Der Witz und seine Beziehung zum Unbewussten, Leipzig und Wien: Franz Deuticke.

Freud Sigmund (1927), “Der Humor”, in: Gesammelte Werke, Bd. 14, 383-89. (Erstveröffentlichung: Almanach der Psychoanalyse 1928, Wien 1927, 9-16).

Gasquet-Cyrus Médéric & Planchenault Gaëlle (2019), “Playing (with) the Marseille accent on television, or the art of putting the accent in a club”, Glottopol31, 113-132.

Greengross Gil (ed.) (2020), Humor: International Journal of Humor Research : “Sex and gender differences in humor”, volume 33 (2).

Holmes Janet, Marra Meredith & Burns Louise (2001), “Women’s humor in the workplace: A quantitative analysis”, Australian Journal of Communication28(1), 83-108.

Kaul Susanne (ed.) (2012), Politik und Ethik der Komik, Paderborn, Fink.

Kotthoff Helga (ed.) (1996), Das Gelächter der Geschlechter: Humor und Macht in Gesprächen von Frauen und Männern, Konstanz: UVK.

Leca-Mercier Florence & Paillet Anne-Marie (2018), The sense of humor: style, genres, contexts. Louvain-la-Neuve: Academia-l’Harmattan.

Prak-Derrington Emmanuelle & Dias Dominique (ed.) (in press), The politically incorrect, speech and language 13.2.

Priego-Valverde Beatrice (2003), Humor in Familiar Conversation: Linguistic Description and AnalysisParis: The Harmattan.

Priego-Valverde Béatrice (2007), “Self-disparaging humor in conversations: a brief survey of a complex phenomenon usually considered as obvious”, in: D. Popa & S. Attardo (ed.), New approaches to the linguistics of humorRomania: Editura Academica Galati.

Rabatel Alain (2013), “Humor and under-enunciation (vs. irony and over-enunciation)”, Grammatical information 137, 36-42.

Raskin Victor (1984), Semantic Mechanisms of HumorDordrecht: Springer.

Rodrigues Suzana B. & Collinson David L. (1995), “’Having Fun’? : Humor as Resistance in Brazil”, Organization Studies 16, no.5: 739-68.

Samson Gunhild (2002), “Der politische Witz in der DDR und seine Verstehensbedingungen”, in: René Métrich & Jean Petit (ed.) Didascalies. Blends in honor of Yves Bertrand for his seventieth birthday. Library of New German Notebooks: Nancy, 461-479.

Soulages Jean-Claude (2006), “Comedy strategies in advertising discourse”, Communications issues 10, 103-118.

Vaneigem Raoul (2015), Nothing is sacred, everything can be said: reflections on freedom of expressionParis: Discovery.

Wirth Uwe (ed.) (2017), Komik. Ein interdisziplinäres HandbuchMetzler, Stuttgart.

[1] INA archive, 28.09.1982,

Humor, power and politics (Aix-Marseille)