The situations of culture: Humor and the limits of measurability

Ido Tavory

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

    Abstract

    This article develops a theory of humor and uses it to assess the attempt to measure meaning-structures in cultural sociology. To understand how humor operates, researchers need to attend to two layers of cultural competencies: general typifications and situation-specific know-how. These cultural competencies are then invoked in ways that define humor as a specific form of experiential frame—the bi-sociation of meaning, its condensation, and resonance with experienced tensions in the social world. I show the usefulness of this theorization through the empirical case of AIDS humor in Malawi, a small country in South-East Africa. Using conversational diaries, everyday interactions, and newspaper cartoons, I argue both that such humor is widespread and that it reveals important facets of life in a country ravaged by the pandemic— what it means for the shadow of AIDS to be ever-present. Through this case, I then turn back to the question of measurement, arguing that although measuring tools may be able to identify large-scale semantic shifts, they necessarily miss forms of interaction such as humor, that are based on allusion, condensation, and what is left unsaid.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Pages (from-to)275-289
    Number of pages15
    JournalTheory and Society
    Volume43
    Issue number3
    DOIs
    StatePublished - May 7 2014

    Fingerprint

    humor
    AIDS
    cultural sociology
    cartoon
    Malawi
    East Africa
    interaction
    know how
    newspaper
    semantics
    present

    Keywords

    • AIDS
    • Culture
    • Humor
    • Malawi
    • Measurement
    • Situation

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • History
    • Sociology and Political Science

    Cite this

    The situations of culture : Humor and the limits of measurability. / Tavory, Ido.

    In: Theory and Society, Vol. 43, No. 3, 07.05.2014, p. 275-289.

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

    Tavory, Ido. / The situations of culture : Humor and the limits of measurability. In: Theory and Society. 2014 ; Vol. 43, No. 3. pp. 275-289.
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