Joking cultures: Humor themes as social regulation in group life

Gary Alan Fine 1.  and Michaela de Soucey 2.
  • 1. Northwestern University.
  • 2. Northwestern University.


Every interacting social group develops, over time, a joking culture: a set of humorous references that are known to members of the group to which members can refer and that serve as the basis of further interaction. Joking, thus, has a historical, retrospective, and reflexive character. We argue that group joking is embedded, interactive, and referential, and these features give it power within the group context. Elements of the joking culture serve to smooth group interaction, share affiliation, separate the group from outsiders, and secure the compliance of group members through social control. To demonstrate these processes we rely upon two detailed ethnographic examples of continuing joking: one from mushroom collectors and the second from professional meteorologists.

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HUMOR, the official publication of the International Society for Humor Studies (ISHS), was established over 25 years ago as an international interdisciplinary forum for the publication of high-quality research papers on humor as an important and universal human faculty. The journal publishes original contributions in areas such as interdisciplinary humor research, humor theory, and humor research methodologies.