Humor as interactional affordances: An ecological perspective on humor in social interaction

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    In adopting new theoretical advancements within linguistics and ecological psychology,
    this paper investigates humor from an ecological perspective in naturally occurring social
    interaction. In doing so, it is claimed that the notions of language as coordination and
    values-realizing can provide a new understanding of humor as it appears in human
    interaction. This argument will be unfolded as a rethinking of Wallace Chafe’s notion
    of nonseriousness (Chafe, 2007) that re-conceptualizes Chafe’s idea of a ‘mental state’
    of nonseriousness in terms of interactional affordances and values realizing. This
    perspective is laid out in in-depth analyses of video recordings of two real-life examples
    from different settings: two siblings playing and a sequence from a couple-therapy
    session. It is claimed that both examples of interactional humor can be explained by
    re-conceptualizing humor as a distinct way of being together. Thus, the emergence
    of humor is enabled by a shift in the coordinative dynamics rather than by a transfer
    of semantic ‘content’ from a speaker to a hearer. Finally, humor is investigated as
    a temporal phenomenon integrating immediate ’here-and-now’ environmental features
    with socio-cultural expectations on a longer time-scale. In this way humor is viewed
    as a particular type of values-realizing activity that constrains our actions, re-directs
    our attention, and thereby enables us to act in a more playful and joyous manner.
    Key words: social interaction, humor, affordances, interpersonal coordination, values
    Original languageEnglish
    JournalPsychology of Language and Communication
    Issue number1
    Pages (from-to)238-259
    Publication statusPublished - 15. Aug 2018


    • affordances
    • humor
    • interpersonal coordination
    • social interaction
    • values realizing


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