The Death of Jokes?: The Shifting Landscape of Humor in Postsocialist Hungary

A public lecture by Martha Lampland, UCSD, Sociology.

Since 1989, commentators on both sides of the Atlantic have mourned the death of jokes in postsocialist societies. The lament is spurious. Jokes have not gone away, but the everyday experience of sharing jokes as a public form of political criticism has indeed fallen by the by in Hungary and elsewhere in Eastern Europe and Russia. Since jokes had been at the heart of political criticism in everyday life, it wasn’t obvious why they would have vanished merely with the demise of the Communist party/state. After all, new governments had the potential to be as incompetent and power-hungry as the Communists before them, and in the decades since have proceeded to live up to these expectations. This talk argues that a series of important shifts in the way Hungarians work, socialize, communicate, and engage in politics has lead them to be far more circumspect in sharing political humor publicly.

Martha Lampland is Associate Professor of Sociology at UCSD, specializing in political economy, history, feminist theory, science studies, social theory, and the symbolic analysis of complex societies. Her book, entitled The Object of Labor: Commodification in Socialist Hungary (University of Chicago Press, 1995), analyzes the collectivization of agriculture in Hungary and its social consequences. Other projects include a study of nineteenth century agrarian history in Hungary, analysis of gender images of the Hungarian nation in the nineteenth century, and patterns of Hungarian historical consciousness and revolution in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

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Duration: 49:51

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