Joking relationship

Joking relationship

A joking relationship is a term applied by anthropologists to the institutionalised form of interaction between certain pairs of people in some societies. Analysed by British social anthropologist Alfred Radcliffe-Brown in 1940, it describes a kind of ritualised banter that takes place, for example between a man and his maternal mother-in-law in some South African tribal societies. Two main variations are described: an asymmetrical relationship where one party is required to take no offence at constant teasing or mocking by the other, and a symmetrical relationship where each party makes fun at the other's expense.

While first encountered by Radcliffe-Brown in the 1920s, this type of relationship is now understood to be very widespread across societies in general.

This type of relationship contrasts strongly with societies where so-called avoidance speech or "mother-in-law" language is imposed to minimise interaction between the two parties, as in many Australian Aboriginal languages. Donald F. Thomson's article "The Joking Relationship and Organized Obscenity in North Queensland" [American Anthropologist, 37:3(1) pp. 460-490, 1935] gives in depth discussion of a number of societies where these two speech styles co-exist. Interestingly the joking relationships which are most unconstrained and free are between classificatory Father's Father and Son's Son -- which appears to be the same situation in the Plains cultures of North America.



Further reading

  • "Joking Relationships" Can End Serious Conflicts, DePauw Political Science Professor to Tell International Political Science Colloquium in France

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