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Laughing it off? Humour, affect and emotion work in communities living with nuclear risk




Over the past two decades, an increasing number of risk researchers have recognized that risks are not simply objective hazards but that the meanings of risk are discursively negotiated, dynamic and embedded within the wider social relations that constitute everyday life. A growing interest in the complexity and nuances of risk subjectivities has alerted sociocultural researchers not only to what is said in a risk situation, but also to how it is said and to what is unsaid and even, in a particular context, unsayable; to the intangible qualities of discourse that communicate additional meanings. Humour is both an intangible and marks such intangible meanings, yet it has largely been ignored and insufficiently theorized by risk researchers. In this paper, we draw upon insights from the humour literature – suspending the belief that humour is inherently good – to analyse and theorize humour as a way of examining the meanings and functions of risk. We show how humour can both mask and carefully reveal affectively charged states about living with nuclear risk. As such, it helps risk subjects to live with risk by suppressing vulnerabilities, enabling the negotiation of what constitutes a threat, and engendering a sense of empowerment. We conclude that humorous talk can be serious talk which can enrich our understandings of the lived experience of risk and of risk subjectivities.