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Taking humour and laughter seriously: Exploring the multi-disciplinary field of humour studies
Dr Jessica Milner Davis FRSN
Honorary Associate, University of Sydney

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From the time of Aristotle and Plato, philosophers have speculated about humour and laughter, proposing that ridere est humanum. But we now know that chimpanzees and rats also laugh. Sociologist Norbert Elias believed that laughter evolved as an antidote to aggression; but humour can also be damaging. This lecture explores the question of whether humour unites or divides the human race. Studies in neuroscience, psychology, linguistics, literature, performance, history, sociology, religion, health, and the emotions all now contribute to our understanding of the functions and consequences of humour. We honour its creators and practitioners, but we still can‘t define it.

Jessica Milner Davis PhD FRSN is a research associate at the University of Sydney and at Brunel University London’s Centre for Comedy Studies Research. A life member of Clare Hall, Cambridge, she has held fellowships and lectured at the Universities of Cambridge, Bologna, Bristol, and NSW, as well as Stanford, Hofstra, and the Jagellonian University. . A past president of the International Society for Humor Studies (ISHS), she founded and continues to co-ordinate the Australasian Humour Studies Network (AHSN: https://ahsnhumourstudies.org/). In 2018 she received the ISHS Lifetime Achievement Award for her interdisciplinary research and publications on humour, comedy, and laughter.

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