Thinking laughter beyond humour: Atmospheric refrains and ethical indeterminacies in spaces of care

Philip Emmerson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Citations (Scopus)
187 Downloads (Pure)


Despite the range of subjects tackled by affective and emotional geographers, laughter has received relatively little attention. Those who do discuss laughter, do so for the most part in terms of the “humorous” moments that precede it. This paper proposes a distinctly different approach: shifting focus away from humour to foreground laughter as an analytical category. Through this, I argue that we can understand laughter as a phenomenon in its own right, without reducing it to humorous intentionality (even when there is humour present). This allows further analytical precision within discussions of laughter particularly around the ways in which it affects bodies and spaces. The paper first discusses laughter as more-than-representational; as having transpersonal and atmospheric spatialities, capable of affecting and being affected beyond its relationship with humour. The refrain is then deployed as a conceptual means through which we can grasp laughter’s indeterminate capacities to generate spaces, atmospheres and subjectivities. Drawing on insights from three months of ethnographic research spent working in nursing care homes, I illustrate these conceptions of laughter in terms of the ways it can enact, disrupt, and reconfigure different relationships between bodies and space. This case study thus prompts discussion of the ethical implications of thinking laughter in this manner, particularly the need to develop an ethos for laughter that remains open to its potential for multiple (and often unexpected) outcomes.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2082-2098
JournalEnvironment and Planning A
Issue number9
Early online date28 Jun 2017
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2017


  • Laughter
  • refrains
  • atmospheres
  • ethics
  • nonrepresentational theories
  • ethnography
  • nursing care homes


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