Sardonic Atheists and Silly Evangelicals: the Relationship between Self-Concept and Humor Style
Humor is widely used as a means of supporting group solidarity, but what determines the direction that this humor takes (i.e. its quality and targets)? I suggest that the answer lies in an interaction between self-concept, perceptions of outgroups and micro group culture. Aspects of self-concept that are central for a group’s identity work, especially how the group imagines outsiders, open possibilities for certain types of humor while closing off others. Then micro-cultural processes, heavily dependent on the exact persons present in a given interaction, influence the humorous forms used. This process explains why groups in roughly similar structural positions often make use of humor to generate solidarity in strikingly different ways, as well as why styles of humor vary, within limits, within groups. I provide illustrations of this process in two religious minority groups with very different humorous styles: atheists in the Bible Belt and evangelical Christians in Chicago.
KeywordsHumor Self-concept Interaction Atheism Religion Evangelicalism
I would like to thank Nidia Banuelos, Courtney Bender, Michaela DeSoucey, Jan Doering, Alessandra Lembo, John Levi Martin, those present at my 2014 American Sociological Association presentation, and three anonymous reviewers from Qualitative Sociology for their very helpful feedback. This research was supported by the National Science Foundation (Award number SES-1333672).
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