Joking relations. Translated and introduced by Jane I. Guyer.

Marcel Mauss


Translator’s Abstract: This article brings together published ethnographic evidence from North America, Melanesia, Australia, and Africa to define a type of “relationship”—usually, but not exclusively, of kinship and affinity—which allows joking, teasing, and even insult and bullying in societies where respectful address is otherwise important. These practices are specific to certain peoples, but widespread and strikingly similar enough to merit close attention as a general human phenomenon. They also resemble practices in our own socie-ties in instances where people escape from excessive formality into play. They are not, however, reducible to social psychological motivation. The relationships designated as “joking relations” are often between particular kin, affines, and marriageable categories in prescriptive marriage systems. Seen in this way, they also pattern with formalized avoid-ance—for example, between a man and his mother-in-law, and with the broader system of exchange and hierarchy, even approaching the drama and contest of the agonistic gift exchange of the potlatch kind. Indeed, there are ceremonial, aesthetic, and religious as-pects to joking relations. The ethnography, and their authors’ first interpretations, suggest that joking relations are systematically designated within social and kinship systems, where they define occasions and expressive forms for displaying particular dimensions of who one is.

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.14318/hau3.2.023