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2025: Laughing and provoking laughter… in action

Issue edited by Camille Riverti and Inès Pasqueron de Fommervault


Laughter is a complex social phenomenon, both ambivalent and multi-formed. It can be provoked by physical stimulation, erupt in the midst of an ordinary conversation, be the result of a witty remark or even be displayed in forms of spectacular humour. Sometimes it signals a moment of relaxation and serves to emphasize a festive atmosphere, while on other occasions it accompanies outbursts of sadness, shame and anger. Although the boundaries of play are always rather imprecise, those delimiting the laughable seem to defy definition. Because they are simultaneously heterogeneous, volatile, fleeting and ephemeral, the contexts in which laughter and the provoking of laughter appear are difficult to grasp and represent a serious methodological challenge for anthropologists. As a result, traditional studies have tended to decontextualize these phenomena. Thus the provoking of laughter found itself associated with institutions, as demonstrated by the structural-functional studies based on the relation with jokes and rituals of inversion. Anthropologists and specialists of Humor Studies have often restricted it to textual contexts, as attested by studies involving the mythological figure of the trickster or the formal analyses of collections of canned jokes (Raskin & Attardo 1986). More recently laughter has been reexamined through the anthropology of emotions, which treats it as a symbol, almost exclusively from the perspective of categories of discourse (Le Breton, 2016). In these various studies, laughter and the provoking of laughter seem finally disembodied, detached from their immediate contexts, usually reduced to schematic pairs: norm/transgression, cohesion/exclusion, dissociation/resolution. Furthermore, the question of laughter and the provoking of laughter is almost always reduced to the field of humour. And yet, although laughter and humour may be linked, they are not interdependent.

This issue is an invitation to complexity, to nuance. It is based on the idea that the heterogeneity and the imprecision which are seemingly specific to interactions involving laughter is actually what makes them interesting. The idea is to explore the complexity of laughter and the provoking of laughter as “modes of action,” situated in specific social, linguistic and political contexts. It’s not a question of reflecting, in an abstract and exclusive manner, on humour or of proposing univocal definitions of the forms of the laughable. Rather, what interests us is the decoding, on the basis of a close analysis of empirical evidence, of the diverse instances of laughter as they are acted out and endlessly negotiated by individuals. This publication emphasizes the pragmatic and interactive approaches which have not yet been extensively explored in the field. Contributors can thus deepen their analysis through input from linguistic anthropology, Goffman’s situationism, ethnomethodology, conversational analysis, relational approaches or even ethnomusicology.

In recognizing laughter and the provoking of laughter as the locus of complexity, this publication is an invitation to combine scales of analysis: from the micro-scale of interaction, the particular stories of the participants, to the macro hierarchies of power (gender, generation, class, “race”, etc.). From this point of view, what is important is to answer simple but fundamental questions: Who is laughing? Who is provoking laughter? When? Where? How? About what? This reflection will make it possible to pose in a pertinent manner the question of the frames and limits of laughter. Depending on the context, how are the social frames defined and installed? How do they condition ways of laughing? To what extent do the participants adhere to them or circumvent them? Contributions can thus apprehend the polyphonic scenes and actors involved in laughter from the point of view of rights, obligations, interdictions, transgressions, etc. The question of the negotiations and reframing of rules made possible by laughter can also be evoked. It is also possible to look at the effects – cognitive, social, political, affective – of interactions involving laughter, beyond the overt objective of simply “enjoying a good laugh.” Contributors can, for example, explore the connections between the laughable and the dramatic, the laughable and the polemic, the laughable and the inexpressible, and analyze the corollary phenomena of misunderstanding, (inter)knowledge and reflexivity.

The situations in which laughter is expected but not manifested are equally pertinent: blunders, flops, misunderstandings, vexations, etc. From this point of view, it is also possible to include considerations on the position of the researcher in the field, who sometimes fails to understand, does not laugh or becomes unintentionally the object of laughter. Thus laughter, or its absence, can become a tool for learning, as pointed out by Patrick Williams: “jokes provoke laughter from those who have nothing to learn from them,” while “they educate retrospectively those who didn’t find them amusing” (1999: 79).

Deadlines and procedures

Proposals should be based on ethnographic investigations, from any geographical area, or on a literary corpus, provided that the contexts of writing and/or reception be studied. We are particularly interested in proposals that focus on the contexts in which laughter and the provocation of laughter are manifested, that study explicitly the methods and tools needed to describe the imprecision and fuzziness that seem to lie at the foundation of the laughter-provoking experience.

Proposals for articles (including a title and a text of 2000 to 3500 signs maximum, bibliography included) accompanied by a short biographical note, should be sent to Camille Riverti ( and Inès Pasqueron de Fommervault ( before November 15, 2023.

Prospective authors will be notified by the beginning of December 2023.

Finished articles should be submitted before June 30, 2024; they will be submitted to double blind peer review, according to the usual procedure ( Articles should follow the stylesheet of the Presses de l’Inalco, which can be consulted on the page “note aux auteurs” on the website of the publication:

This issue of the journal is planned for publication in 2025 (no. 98).


Anthropological Forum, 2008, « You've Got to be Joking! Anthropological Perspectives on Humour and Laughter », vol. 18, no. 3, 308 p.

Attardo Salvatore & Raskin Victor, 2009, « Script theory revis(it)ed: joke similarity and joke representation model », Humor - International Journal of Humor Research, vol. 4, no. 3/4, p. 293-348.

Auge Marc, 1978, « Quand les signes s’inversent », Communication, vol. 28, no. 1, p. 55-67.

Bateson Gregory, 1972, « A theory of play and fantasy », in Steps to an ecology of mind, The University of Chicago Press, Chicago, p. 233-249.

Beaudet Jean-Michel, 1996, « Rire. Un exemple d’Amazonie », L’Homme, no. 140, p. 81-99.

Daphy Eliane & Rey-Hulman, Diana, 1999, Paroles à rire, Inalco, Paris, 292 p.

Douglas Mary, 1968, « The Social Control of cognition. Some factors in joke perception », Man, vol. 3, no. 3, p. 361-376.

Gay Para Praline, 1986, « La guerre de rire. Histoires drôles du Liban », Cahier de Littérature Orale, no. 20, p. 103-120.

Goffman Erving, 1974, Frame Analysis: An Essay on the Organization of Experience; Harper & Row, New York, 586 p.

Griaule Marcel, 1948, « L’alliance cathartique », Africa, vol. 18, no. 4, p. 242-258.

Kopelent Rehak Jana et Trnka Susanna, 2018, The politics of joking. Anthropological engagements, Routledge, New York, 206 p.

Le Breton David, 2018, Le rire. Une anthropologie du rieur, Métailié, Paris, 260 p.

Terrain, 2013, « Rires », no. 61, 184 p.

Moussaoui Abderrahmane, 2013, « Rire en situation de violence. L’Algérie des années 1990 », Terrain, no. 61, p. 122-133.

Radcliffe-Brown Alfred Reginald, 1940, « On joking relationships », Africa, vol. 13, no. 3, p. 195-210.

Radin Paul, 1969, The trickster, Greenwood Press, New York, 211 p.

Riverti Camille, 2022, Humour et érotisme dans les Andes. Une ethnographe à marier. Paris, Les Indes Savantes (« Americana »), 262 p.

Pasqueron de Fommervault Inès, 2019, Pour une anthropologie du rire. Les cadres de l’expérience du corps riant dans les villages de la Kagera (Tanzanie), thèse de doctorat, Université Aix-Marseille,, 564 p.

Luomala Katharine, 1949, Maui-of-a-thousand-tricks, His Oceanic and European biographers, Bernice P., Bishop Museum Bulletin, Honolulu, no. 198, 300 p.

Williams Patrick, 1999, « L’histoire drôle comme instrument de connaissance », Daphy E. & Rey Hulman D. (ed.), Paroles à rire, Inalco, Paris, p. 77-87.

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