Geography Geographies of Humor
Jennifer L. Fluri
  • LAST REVIEWED: 29 November 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 November 2022
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199874002-0248


Geographers have engaged with and examined humor from a variety of subdisciplinary perspectives. Many geographic inquiries draw on Michel Billig’s theoretical engagements with laughter, humor, mockery, and “unlaughter” (see Billig 2005). The geographer Juha Ridanpää, featured throughout this article, has written extensively on humor in geography from geohumanities to geopolitics. Geographers have begun to heed Ridanpää’s request for geographic analyses to seriously engage with humor. Analyses of humor address the ways in which comedy, comics, cartoons, jokes, laughter, and mockery are used to call attention to social or political issues, act as a mechanism of both inclusion and exclusion, and serve as a method for creating spatial meaning or spatial imaginaries. Humor is contextual, spatial, and operates within specific time-spaces. The time-spaces of humor explored by various geographers includes a focus on the momentary or temporally contingent, as well as the cyclical, ongoing or entrenched.

General Overviews

Billig 2005 has been foundational to various geographic engagements with humor. In this book Billig addresses the various ways in which humor functions in societies both socially and politically. He examines the concept of “unlaughter,” which can be described as not laughing in the face of a situation where laughter is hoped for, expected, or required. Additionally, geographers have drawn on Billig’s discussion of laughter as a form of embodied release, and the use of mockery against “othered” individuals or groups to subsequently create both spatial exclusion and in-group cohesion for those “in-on-the-joke.” Examinations of humor among geographers were rather sparse, particularly in the first decade of the twenty-first century, but has since increased as an analytical category in the past decade (2011–2021). While humor has begun to have more analytical importance in geography, it is not always a laughing matter (Ridanpää 2014b).

  • Billig, M. Laughter and Ridicule: Towards a Social Critique of Humour. London: SAGE, 2005.

    DOI: 10.4135/9781446211779

    This book provides foundational theoretical and social examinations of laughter, unlaughter, and ridicule. Many of the scholars included in this review regularly cite and engage with this scholarship.

  • Ridanpää, J. “Geographical Studies of Humor.” Geography Compass 8.10 (2014a): 701–709.

    DOI: 10.1111/gec3.12159

    This article provides a thorough overview of geographic engagements with humor. Ridanpää highlights the ways in which humor is affective and creates a shared sense of place through social bonding or cohesion. He also stresses that humor is not always a laughing matter. For example, when humor is used to mock minorities or identity-based traits of a particular group in an effort to politically or socially marginalize by identifying them as “other.”

  • Ridanpää, J. “Seriously Serious Political Spaces of Humor.” ACME: An International E-Journal for Critical Geographies 13.3 (2014b): 450–456.

    This commentary provides an overview of the various ways in which political geographers have analyzed and can analyze humor. The author argues that humor should be taken seriously as a research topic in critical geography, as integral to rather than separate from politics. Humor can be used as a tool to both defy power or reinforce its strength.

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