Although scholars have recently begun to attend to emotions in the context of teaching and learning for critical consciousness, much of their work has focused on anger, angst, and guilt. Our understanding of how laughter and humor circulate in critical classrooms is far less developed. Moreover, as of yet, we have not systematically explored how humor and laughter mediate immigrant youths' understandings of their social experiences inside and outside of these spaces. We particularly lack a nuanced understanding of what happens when immigrant youth laugh together in informal educational settings, such as co-ethnic community organizations.
This dissertation reflects a 9-month ethnographic investigation of the experiences of twenty-two adolescent children of Indian immigrant parents in a co-ethnic community organization called India Community School (ICS). Attention was paid to the significance of laughter in this space, with a particular focus on laughter within the youths' literature classroom. I examined how laughter and humor circulated within and through classroom talk about issues critical educators typically approach seriously, such as oppressive discourses and inequitable power relationships.
I begin by illustrating how youth and adults entered ICS with the serious purpose of creating and strengthening connections to a real and imagined India. This seriousness of purpose, however, did not preclude the organization from being a site of lightness and levity. I describe moments of laughter in the literature classroom and theorize how laughter and space impacted what it meant to feel understood or ''got,'' or understood, in this particular co-ethnic setting. I then illustrate how, at times, laughter circulated within and through anecdotes youth told about ways in which their ethnic identities were (mis)imagined by non-Indians. I consider how, during moments of laughter, youth exposed dominant discourses and disrupted normative power relationships. Finally, I explore the inherent ambiguity of theorizing laughter in classroom spaces by spotlighting particular instances in which youth interpreted familiar others to be ''just joking'' when they leveraged what critical theorists would consider to be marginalizing comments.
My research suggests there is much to learn from spaces of sameness. Findings point to ways in which the identities people share within a space might facilitate laughter--and thus talk--about critical issues surrounding those identities. Implications for what this means for teaching critically in diverse classroom settings are discussed. Finally, this work highlights the need to better attend to how youths' laughter, at different moments (and sometimes simultaneously), both disrupts and perpetuates oppressive discourses. This is particularly important for researchers committed to theorizing critical pedagogies. If we truly want to connect learning to students' lived experiences we need to stop ignoring how their communities use humor in complex ways to perpetuate, cope with, and change our sociopolitical climate.
The research builds on and contributes to literature in the fields of emotion, humor and pedagogy, critical teaching and learning, immigrant education, and scholarship on the discursive minimization of social oppression. Findings have the potential to complicate and reframe our understanding of immigrant youths' identities and the role of humor in teaching for critical consciousness.
University of Minnesota Ph.D. dissertation. May 2012. Major:Education, Curriculum and Instruction. Advisor: Bic Ngo. 1 computer file (PDF); v, 174 pages, appendices A-D.
Hansen, Sarah Elizabeth.
Laughing in spaces of sameness:disrupting the seriousness of critical pedagogy..
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