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.
- Collegenews.org "Joking Relationships" Can End Serious Conflicts, DePauw Political Science Professor to Tell International Political Science Colloquium in France