Course description

Laughing politically: toward the anthropology of humor


Comparative Study of Ideas and Cultures (3rd cycle)

Anthropology: Understanding Worldmaking Practices

Course principal:
Prof. Tanja Petrović, Ph.D.


Course code: 62

Year of study: Not specified

Workload: lectures 60 hours, seminars 30 hours

Course type: general elective

Languages: Slovene, English

Learning and teaching methods: lectures, seminars


Course Syllabus



None required.


Content (Syllabus outline)

1. Humor and anthropology: history of anthropological interest in humor; humor as a lens for (self)reflection in anthropology:

  • Humor and social relations;
  • Humor and rituals;
  • Ironies of anthropological research and writing.


2. Humor and language:

  • Forms of humor;
  • Rhetorical and linguistic mechanisms of production of humor;
  • Humor and mimesis.


3. Humor and politics:

  • Humor and public sphere;
  • Humor as a political weapon?
  • Discursive and social conditions of political relevance of humor;
  • Humor and forms of social organization (humor in totalitarian and in neoliberal societies).


4. Humor, media and politics: an anthropological perspective:

  • Media, entertainment industries and politics;
  • Media friendly forms of political humor: fake news, satirical theater, carnivalesque political parties.


5. Unstable relationships:

  • Humor and seriousness;
  • Reality and farce;
  • Intimacy and distance, identification and resistance.


6. Humor, social change and political subjectivity:

  • Humor and moral economy: involvement, self-reflection;
  • Humor as form of labor;
  • Humor, cynicism and social action.



  • Anderson, Paul. 2013. The Politics of Scorn in Syria and the Agency of Narrated Involvement. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute (N.S.) 19: 463–481.
  • Apte, Madhev. 1985. Humor and Laughter: An Anthropological Approach. Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press.
  • Boyer Dominic in Alexei Yurchak. 2010. American Stiob: Or, What Late-Socialist Aesthetics can Reveal about Contemporary Political Culture in the West. Cultural Anthropology 25(2): 179–221.
  • Douglas, Mary. 1968. The Social Control of Cognition: Some Factors in Joke Perception. Man 3: 361–376.
  • Fernandez, James in Mary Taylor Huber. 2001. Irony in Action: Anthropology, Practice and the Moral Imagination. Chicago: The Chicago University Press.
  • Gal, Susan. 1995. Language and “The Arts of Resistance.” Cultural Anthropology 10(3): 407–424.
  • Goldstein, Donna. 2013. Laughter out of Place (Second edition). Berkeley: University of California Press.
  • Haugerud, Angelique. 2013. No Billionaire Left Behind: Satirical Activism in America. Stanford: Stanford University Press.
  • Mbembe, Achille. 1992. Provisional Notes on the Postcolony. Africa 62(1): 3–37.
  • Molé, Noelle. 2013. Trusted Puppets, Tarnished Politicians: Humor and Cynicism in Berluskoni’s Italy. American Ethnologist 40(2): 288–299.
  • Oushakine, Sergei. 2012. Red Laughter: On Refined Weapons of Soviet Jesters. Social Research 79(1): 189–216.
  • Petrović, Tanja. 2015. Serbia in the Mirror: Parodying Political and Media Discourses. Slavic Review 74(2): 288–310.
  • Petrović, Tanja. 2018. Political Parody and the Politics of Ambivalence. Annual review of anthropology. 47: 201-216.
  • Yurchak, Alexei. 2006. Everything Was Forever, Until It Was No More: The Last Soviet Generation. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.


Objectives and competences

Although a long standing object of anthropological inquiry, humor and laughter have recently attracted significant attention from anthropologists. At the beginning of the 21st century, humor has reemerged as a prominent political tool, becoming a constitutive aspect of “serious” politics and a preferred and widely embraced means to perform citizenship. This course will discuss both the reasons for and implications of this reinforced political relevance of humor. Through extensive use of examples from societies around the globe, we will explore a series of issues that are all of critical importance for understanding modern social and political worlds and the way we as political subjects think upon and position within them.


Particular attention will be paid to the relationship between humor and political subjectivity in modern day societies characterized by impossibility to position unambiguously vis-a-vis hegemonic structures that are objects of humorous critique.


Students will acquire knowledge of the history of political humor, its forms and manifestations, as well as of most influential theories of humor developed in anthropology and related fields. The course will provide them with competences necessary for the analysis of performative and discursive practices and their functions and meanings in complex moral and social economies of modern day societies across the globe.


Intended learning outcomes:

Students are capable of critical and analytical thinking about use of humor and other performative practices in modern political communities. They can recognize and understand the meaning and role of these practices, as well as the ways of generation, circulation and consumption of humorous political content.


Learning and teaching methods:

Types of learning/teaching:

  • Frontal teaching
  • Independent students work
  • e-learning


Teaching methods:

  • Explanation
  • Conversation/discussion/debate
  • Work with texts
  • Case studies



  • Short written assignment (20 %),
  • presentations (20 %),
  • final examination (written/oral) (60 %).


Anthropology of consciousness and practices of awareness

Asst. Prof. Maja Petrović Šteger, Ph. D.,


Anthropology of Fertility

Assoc. Prof. Duška Kneževič Hočevar, Ph.D.,


Cosmology of Mesoamerican Societies

Prof. Ivan Šprajc, Ph.D.,


Epistemological pluralism and “decolonizing” methods in ethnographic research

Assoc. Prof. Pirjo Kristiina Virtanen, Ph.D.,


Laughing politically: toward the anthropology of humor

Prof. Tanja Petrović, Ph.D.,


Public anthropology, social engagement and activism

Assoc. Prof. Ana Hofman, Ph.D.,


Research Methodology in Anthropological Linguistics

Prof. Borut Telban, Ph.D.,

Karmen Kenda-Jež, Ph.D.,


Space and movement: towards anthropology of locations and migrations

Asst. Prof. Nataša Gregorič Bon, Ph.D.,