Abstract

The article is based on qualitative fieldwork in Danish rehabilitation centres. It uses an interactionist perspective in focusing on the role of humour and laughter in social work. As the article’s analysis shows, laughter divides staff members (who laugh) from clients (who don’t laugh).

This finding can be related to the many inherent contradictions and paradoxes that define social work and which occasion laughter. The role of humour and laughter in the interaction between staff members and clients can be linked to sociological categories like inequality, tension, control, informality and group affiliations.

The author therefore suggests that sociological literature on laughter, where laughter is viewed as closely related to what Douglas has termed ‘jokes of social structure’, be brought to bear on the analysis of central characteristics of the interaction between social workers and clients. For the purposes of this article, the sociological perspective on humour and laughter is systematically distinguished from a more traditional psychological perspective that links humour and the corresponding laughter with inner psychological states of individuals.

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