City Research Online

The Divisive Power of Humour: Comedy, Taste and Symbolic Boundaries

Friedman, S. & Kuipers, G. (2013). The Divisive Power of Humour: Comedy, Taste and Symbolic Boundaries. Cultural Sociology, 7(2), pp. 179-195. doi: 10.1177/1749975513477405


Using British and Dutch interview data, this article demonstrates how people from different social classes draw strong symbolic boundaries on the basis of comedy taste. Eschewing the omnivorousness described in recent studies of cultural consumption, comedy audiences make negative aesthetic and moral judgements on the basis of comedy taste, and often make harsh judgements without the disclaimers, apologies and ambivalence so typical of ‘taste talk’ in contemporary culture. The article demonstrates how, in particular, Dutch and British middle class audiences use their comedy taste to communicate distinction and cultural superiority. We discuss several reasons why such processes of social distancing exist in comedy taste and not other cultural areas: the traditionally low status of comedy; the strong relation between humour and personhood; the continuity between comedy tastes and humour styles in everyday life; as well as the specific position of comedy in the British and Dutch cultural fields.

Publication Type: Article
Publisher Keywords: Britain, comedy, comparative research, humour, popular culture, symbolic boundaries, taste, Netherlands
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HM Sociology
Departments: School of Policy & Global Affairs > Sociology & Criminology
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