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Laughter: a Transdisciplinary Approach (IL024)

"Our excuse for attacking the problem in our turn must lie in the fact that we shall not aim at imprisoning the comic spirit within a definition. We regard it, above all, as a living thing. However trivial it may be, we shall treat it with the respect due to life. We shall confine ourselves to watching it grow and expand. Passing by imperceptible gradations from one form to another, it will be seen to achieve the strangest metamorphoses. We shall disdain nothing we have seen."
- Henri Bergson, Laughter: An Essay on the Meaning of the Comic


Laughter is one of the most frequent and important manifestations of emotion and affect in social interaction, yet it tends to be ignored in the growing field of the study of emotion. What makes us laugh? What happens when we laugh? Why do we laugh? Indeed, what is laughter? All these questions and more will be the subject of this module. We will examine the phenomenon of laughter from a wide variety of disciplinary perspectives including neuroscience, philosophy, film and television, and literary studies. Students will be expected to bring examples of what makes them laugh to sessions, and complete a reflective journal on the experience of the module.


The module is one of a number of similar interdisciplinary modules. It will be available to all Warwick Undergraduates from Year 2 on, and will form part of the IATL strategic initiatives supporting interdisciplinarity.


The module examines laughter through a variety of disciplinary approaches. The study of emotion is a growing area of interdisciplinary study in academic life. There is now a journal in the field of Psychology, for example ("Emotion"). Modules on emotion proliferate, and there is a Centre for the Study of Emotion (University of Florida). Laughter, however, tends to be a neglected area, yet it is one of the most frequent and important manifestations of emotion and affect in social interaction. The module will examine the phenomenon of laughter from a variety of disciplinary perspectives including neuroscience, physiology, sociology, philosophy, film and television, and literary studies. The Orange prize winning writer, and stand-up comedian, A.L. Kennedy, will also contribute.


The module encourages students to:

· Investigate the philosophy of laughter and analyse elements of its historical development.

· Understand the linguistic and social background to the phenomenon of laughter, and study its role in contemporary society.

· Understand elements of the physiology of laughter, including its relationship to brain activity.

· Examine laughter in cultural contexts including film and television, radio, and live performance.


The module is designed via interdisciplinary study to enable students to make connections between their own discipline/s and the object of study, and so devise original research questions.


The module will, therefore:

· Help students to grasp abstract and complex ideas from a range of disciplines (=multidisciplinary), and to synthesize these into thoughtful intellectual responses (=interdisciplinary), that lead students to insights that may lie beyond the scope of a single discipline (=transdisciplinary).

· Help students understand the symbiotic potential of traditionally distinct disciplines.

· Engage students fully with ‘active’ learning. It will be faithful to the notion that participation and experiential learning foster a deeper understanding of complex material.

· Enhance and consolidate students’ academic and research abilities, while also stimulating team-work and collaboration, thus creating a pool of transferable skills that students can acquire and practice.

· Make productive links between theoretical ideas and practical applications.


Module convenor

Professor Nicholas Monk


Term 2 (Spring) 2019-20

Tuesday 9 am to 11 am (TBC)


Humanities Studio (HO.76)

Humanities Building


For 15 CATS:

10% Forum Moderation
20% Marking exercise
70% Reflective journal (5000 words)

For 12 CATS:

25% Peer Review exercise
75% Reflective journal (5000 words maximum)