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Making Waves:Comedy, Humour and Laughter as Fourth Wave Feminisms

Diddams, Natalie (2020) Making Waves:Comedy, Humour and Laughter as Fourth Wave Feminisms. Doctoral thesis (PhD), Manchester Metropolitan University.

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Abstract

This thesis aims to explore how humour, comedy and laughter are functioning within the fourth wave feminist movement. Specifically, it examines how comic techniques are being mobilised by feminists in order to shatter restrictive and outmoded processes of gender representation. It also considers how waves of laughter generated by feminist comedy performances are capable of eventfully opening bodies to the possibility of new ways of being, and creating ripples of affective solidarity that are characterised by humour and joy. Historically, humour, comedy and laughter have been largely ignored within the academy. In recent years, however, these more playful aspects of social life have gained traction within new materialism(s), where they have generated thinking about group behaviour. There has also been a surge in feminist writing in this area; with some theorists pointing to how comedy, humour and laughter can subvert sexist stereotypes and move beyond normative modes of representation. This thesis builds on and addresses gaps in the existing literature, by diffracting new materialist concepts through instances of comedy, humour and laughter within fourth wave feminism(s). A qualitative study was conducted in three event-spaces where aspects of fourth wave humour, comedy and laughter have been taking shape. The first of these spaces was the Women’s Comedy Workshop: a participatory comedy project for women in Bradford, UK. The second was the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, which has seen an exponential increase in performances by female and feminist comedians in recent years. The third space was the online/offline interface created by the hugely popular feminist comedy podcast entitled The Guilty Feminist. Through the thesis, it is argued that humour is a defining feature of the feminist fourth wave. As well as allowing us to transgress some of the boundaries that keep patriarchal ideas in place, feminist comedy practices are bringing diverse groups of people together and allowing for the emergence of affectively charged micro-communities. Moreover, laughter can increase the body’s capacity to act; making it possible for participants to explore new ways of relating to the world around them. Finally, it is suggested that some of these effects have taken on global proportions via the internet; meaning that waves of laughter are capable of energising waves of feminism all over the world.

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