Humor, joking and satire will not overcome political realities and directly affect forms of violence, but it can provide a powerful critique, a non-violent form of political protest and the space for restoration of human dignity. This lecture dedicated to the legacy of Ernest Gellner will present a new publication The Politics of Joking by Jana Kopelent-Rehak and Susanna Trnka. It is a collaborative attempt to show a new direction in anthropological engagements with humor as a political expression and also as a mirror held up to society. The essays in this volume, written by anthropologists working in diverse cultural contexts and geographical areas, discuss sense of humor, the practice of joking, comic attitudes, acts of play, and above all, the potential of humor as a political force. Collectively, the scholars show how humor is deployed across various cultures to evoke emotions of anger, fear and despair. They examine humor as it is constituted in political anxiety and absurdity, aggression and power, but also when humor becomes a tool to resist, repair, reconcile or make a moral claim.
Jana Kopelent-Rehak is a Czech American cultural anthropologist, photographer and filmmaker is currently a faculty and researcher at the University of Maryland. Her research embraces a range of issues such as coastal social ecology, urban space and aesthetics, aging, social inequality, political life, violence, social suffering and social justice. In the Czech Republic, she worked with ecological refugees from Chernobyl and published a book Recovering Face about Czech Political Prisoners, addressing issues of social justice, national identity, reconciliation and memory in the context of social processes in post-socialist Central Eastern Europe. Her urban anthropology work, since 1994, is based on an engagement with communities in Baltimore, addressing urban public art, development, housing, health and social and environmental inequality. From 2013 she has been exploring environmental and social changes on Smith Island in Maryland, with a focus on cultural heritage, life cycle and aging. The signature of her work is a visual representation of socio-cultural life. Her most recent, collaborative publication The Politics of Joking, is an attempt to make an original contribution to an anthropological study of humor and joking in political life.