Institute of Advanced Studies (IAS)


IAS 'On Laughter': So much more than funny - Laughter and difference in central Australia

12 July 2019, 1:00 pm–2:00 pm


Yasmine Musharbash (The University of Sydney) will deliver one of the three keynote lectures of the conference 'On Laughter' at the IAS.

This event is free.

Event Information

Open to







Andrew Dean and Alice Rudge


IAS Common Ground
Ground floor, South Wing, UCL

Conducting participant observation-based research with Warlpiri people in the camps of Yuendumu, an Aboriginal settlement in central Australia, provided me with daily reminders that “laughter is a human universal and what people laugh about is not”. It also taught me that the fact that other people laugh when I don’t (or, vice versa) is only the most trivial difference writ in laughter. And so, rather than focussing on Warlpiri humour in order to ‘understand’ Warlpiri laughter, in this presentation I emphasise radical difference. Approaching laughter as both a somatic and a social experience, I explore in ethnographic depth:

  1. How Warlpiri people understand laughter somatically, by looking at laughter and weakness;
  2. How Warlpiri people understand their own laughter and that of others as potentially dangerous, or, the connection they make between laughter and fear; and
  3. How Warlpiri people socially recognise laughter as an appropriate response to unfunny events.

To sharpen my point about radical difference, in a final example, I return to a case study where Indigenous and non-Indigenous laughters co-mingle. I conclude by pondering how laughter is one lens through which to reflect about the state and shape of contemporary settler/colonial relations in central Australia.

This keynote talk is part of the conference 'On Laughter'. Please download the full programme here.

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