From coping to carrying on: A pragmatic laughter between life and death

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This paper explores the relational geographies of laughter, life and death within nursing care homes. Death is often seen as the ultimate Other: sitting in opposition to life, at the limits of what is knowable, and therefore as something that is impossible to fully engage with. In nursing care homes, however, death remains a relatively banal element of ordinary life, and like many other aspects of nursing care home life, is often accompanied by bursts of laughter. Where most scholars position the relation between laughter and death in terms of coping – laughter as a means of pushing away emotions during encounters with death – this paper offers an alternative and more affirmative account of laughter and death. Through drawing on seven months of ethnographic engagement with two nursing care homes in the UK, the paper argues that laughter occurs, not as a means of coping, but rather as a “carrying on”: a taking of our emotions forward with us and folding them into our sense of self rather than pushing them away. Further to this, I argue that this mode of enfolding affectivities is suggestive of a wider form of pragmatic micropolitics in care homes, whereby carers often work towards an “as well as possible” rather than grand, idealistic political visions. In concluding, I therefore propose pragmatics as a new framework through which geographers might further engage with the politics of care.


Original languageEnglish
JournalTransactions of the Institute of British Geographers
Early online date4 Jun 2018
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 4 Jun 2018