Change the world

19/07/2022

Good, philosophical living needs a sense of humour – emotional, intellectual, and ethical. So, if we think of philosophy as a way of life, we should be thinking about how to train ourselves in humour and how to develop and refine our sense of humour. 

“It is actually quite a serious task, part of this kind of training would be to try to understand what goes on in comedic situations, like in stand-up comedy, how playwrights create humorous scenes, and how humour links to other ethical dispositions, like shame and so on”, says Prof Andrea Hurst of the NRF (SARChI) Chair in Identities and Social Cohesion in Africa (ISCIA) at Nelson Mandela University. 
 
Prof Hurst’s research fuses philosophical inquiry, complexity-thinking and practice-based knowing in the arts and the Chair investigates how intellectual experimentation and aesthetic practices may undo adversarial identities and promote dialogue to restore dignity. 
 
The ISCIA 2022 Webinar Series: The Power of Humour, the first part of which took place in March to June this year, shared various topics and insights from local and international scholars, accompanied by quirky invitations. The second part of the series begins on 29 July with an exciting line-up of speakers, including locally-bred comedian Donovan Goliath. 
 
Prof Hurst and Dr Jennalee Donian (a postdoctoral student at Mandela University), opened the series with their presentation on the type of humour that could inform positive social change and encourage productive, innovative, and cathartic outcomes, mitigating destructive impacts. 
 
A second presentation by Prof Hurst was entitled “Nietzsche and the question of humour as a necessary ethical disposition for thinking.” She discussed the importance of philosophy exploring the ethical way of life and agreed with Nietzsche that the highest form of thinking is a kind of humour, and that humour turns critical thinking into its more flexible version, namely complexity-thinking. 
 
The “family meetings” with President Cyril Ramaphosa in the persona as “Uncle Cyril”, was the terminology used by social media commenters, news media and even government officials. “Kodwa nama breadwinner angithi”: Family Metaphor and the COVID-19 Pandemic in South Africa was the title of the presentation by Dr Robin Crigler from Michigan State University in the United States. He shared, that with South Africa’s ongoing struggles with corruption, racism and the legacy of colonialism and apartheid, this unique, rich, and contradictory metaphor is interesting. 
 
South African playwright, cultural activist and coordinator of STAND, Mike van Graan, reflected on his work and especially on the use of satire and humour in pursuing his understanding of what it means to be a playwright in contemporary South Africa. He believes the theatre sector reflects our deeply divided society with inequality and culture (values, belief systems and traditions) among the key aspects. Yet through humour, theatre  provides a form of emotional and psychological catharsis.  
 
 “Jokes about Africa(ns) in cross cultural contexts” was the topic of Izuu Nwankwo of the Johannes Gutenberg Universit├Ąt in Mainz, Germany. Nwankwo discussed the relationship between identity, cultural representations and jokes. With the increasing diversity in audiences and online presentations, stand-up comics have been scrutinised for irreverent anecdotes. Jokes do not only make us laugh but also discomfort us.  
 
Nohayer Esmat Lotfy and May Soliman of the British University in Egypt also investigated humour in the time of the Corona virus and analysed Egyptian comedic expressions on Facebook. On the Facebook page, “Coronavirus”, the author adopted the persona of coronavirus exploring issues of the pandemic in Egypt. The posts also mocked the illogical actions of the public and the state. 
 
Lotfy also examined how Egyptian live stand-up performance, acts as a liminal (transformative) space where comedians present their perspectives of social-cultural and political issues of personal concern. These offer a different source of knowledge production in contrast to mainstream views and ideas. 
 
 
Three seminars focused on humour in Nigeria. 
 
Among the Igbos of eastern Nigeria, a game of humour called Njakiri forms part of their social life. Lawrence Ogbo Ugwuanyi from the University of Abuja shared the game of laughter, which among grown-up Igbo males, aims to provoke laughter and entertain a crowd. Harsh contemptuous words are used to elicit laughter in the crowd in the hope that the contestants will develop courage by absorbing these words. 
 
Olusola Ogunnubi of the University of the Free State and Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada, and Dare Leke Idowu from Bowen University in Iwo, Nigeria, outlined Nigeria’s creative industry through digital comic skits. Also, therapeutic comedy could reposition Nigeria’s receding image in the international sphere. Digital comedy skits offer some power possibilities in several aspects of diplomacy and the positive affirmation of “Nigerianness”. 
 
Lastly, against the theoretical assumption that humour emanates from feelings and expressions of cooperativeness and communality, Ibukun Filani from the Augustine University Ilara-Epe in Nigeria explored the place of individual beliefs and the egocentric interpretation of comedic representation could impact how we conceptualise humour in comedy venues. 
 
Lydia Amir from Tufts University in Boston, USA, explored philosophic humour as a new model of rationality, facilitating both self-knowledge and effective deliberation. This also enables us to live with unresolved conflict. 
 
Another Mandela Uni postdoc Abigail Wiese, discussed humour, its affects, and how these are communicated through mood, atmosphere and gesture. She aimed to offer a better understanding of humour in relation to others, in the performative politics of humour. 
 
Prof Hurst remarks that “we have come to think of perpetual crisis as the contemporary human condition. The pandemic, the war in Ukraine, plastic pollution, energy, climate change and water scarcity, to name only a few. The question posed to academics is how to foster a robust contemporary mindset that can cope with, and somehow deal with, a contemporary reality of seemingly perpetual crises. 
 
“For this, I believe, we have to foster more than critical thinking. We need a mindset of complexity-thinking. And, interestingly, even though it might seem frivolous to be involved in thinking, writing and engaging about humour in the face of all of our immediate real-life crises, humour - in its vary many facets - is actually an essential part of the complexity-thinking we are in dire need of today.” 
 

Contact information
Prof Andrea Hurst
Professor (Philosophy)
Tel: 27 41 504 4848
andrea.hurst@mandela.ac.za