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Complexity theory and conversational humour: Tracing the birth and decline of a running joke in an online cancer support community

Demjen, Z; (2018) Complexity theory and conversational humour: Tracing the birth and decline of a running joke in an online cancer support community. Journal of Pragmatics , 133 pp. 93-104. 10.1016/j.pragma.2018.06.001. Green open access

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Abstract

This paper argues that a fuller understanding of conversational humour, in all its multifunctional, multifaceted, and heterogeneous nature, could be achieved by conducting at least some conversational humour research from the perspective of complexity theory (an umbrella term covering ‘complex adaptive systems theory’, ‘dynamic systems theory’, ‘chaos theory’, etc.). Complexity theory encourages questions that are not usually asked about conversational humour and provides ways of answering them. It ‘aims to account for how the interacting parts of a complex system give rise to the system's collective behaviour and how such a system simultaneously interacts with its environment’ making 'change central to theory and method’ (Larsen-Freeman & Cameron 2008: 1). The ‘objects of concern’ are no longer entities or things (e.g. the joke, a pun, etc.), but processes, changes and continuities: how do particular jokes, puns or humorous lexemes come into being in a given discourse community, how do their uses and meanings develop? The paper demonstrates the potential of a complexity approach to conversational humour by applying it to one particular manifestation of conversational humour: 235 instances of a running joke centred around the lemma rolo*, in approximately 680,000 words of online peer-support data (2544 forum posts, 47 blogs and blog comments), produced by 97 contributors over a period of 13 months in 2011–2012.

Type: Article
Title: Complexity theory and conversational humour: Tracing the birth and decline of a running joke in an online cancer support community
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
DOI: 10.1016/j.pragma.2018.06.001
Publisher version: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pragma.2018.06.001
Language: English
Additional information: Copyright © 2018 The Author. This is an open access article under the CC BY license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/).
Keywords: Conversational humour, Methodology, Complexity theory, Cancer, Running jokes
UCL classification: UCL
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Education
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Education > UCL Institute of Education
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Education > UCL Institute of Education > IOE - Culture, Communication and Media
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10051091
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