American Journal of Cultural Sociology

, Volume 3, Issue 2, pp 280–308 | Cite as

At a close distance: Dropouts, teachers, and joking relationships

  • Anna Lund
Original Article


Is student joking in school always a counter-school cultural practice? Paul Willis has shown how ‘the laff’, as a practice, functions to allow students to distance themselves from teachers and schoolwork. But is it possible that joking in school can be an asset for learning and other processes, not simply a problem? Using fieldwork from a school for dropouts located in Malmö, a multicultural city in southern Sweden, I show how teachers and students engage in lively joking relationships, a practice in which both parties tease each other without anyone taking offense. Through an analysis of these joking relationships and the ways in which such relationships can both stabilize a social order and work for social transformation, the article illustrates how a joking relationship can favor emotional identification and cultural extension between teachers and students. Contra our assumptions about the disruptive and countercultural power of ‘the laff’ at school, I show how joking relationships facilitate a bidirectional multicultural incorporation in which behavioral patterns originating from youth and popular culture are used as an embodied resource by teachers.


ethnography high school dropouts joking relationships multicultural incorporation Sweden 


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Copyright information

© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Ltd 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Anna Lund
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Cultural SciencesCentre for Cultural Sociology, Linnaeus UniversityVäxjöSweden

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