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Making sense with the sense of humor : an examination of the joke as a hermeneutic unit and its potential place in education Decker, Elaine


Heidegger says we are "thrown" into the world. We are then left to our own devices to make sense of that world and our place in it. In our society education plays an important role in helping students consider the world they want and in preparing them to live well. Some scholars and theologians argue that a sense of humor is useful in this sense-making endeavour. In this research, I explore the history of humor, its interpretive capacities, and its potential place in education. In Chapter 1, I offer evidence that the world is a confounding place and that the challenge of how best to live can be daunting. I outline the origins of hermeneutics as the science and methodology of interpretation and suggest that we consider comic opportunities for hermeneutic engagement. In Chapter 2, I review the history of humor, summarizing and critiquing the major theories about why people laugh. I propose Gadamer's philosophical hermeneutics as a resource to better make sense of the sense of humor. In Chapter 3, I examine philosophical hermeneutics in detail, building a case for the joke as a hermeneutic unit. In Chapter 4, I turn to the educational imperative to help students understand self and the world and I argue that the joke could make a significant contribution to this process of "composing a life" (Bateson, 1989), a hermeneutic process of interpretation, understanding and application. In Chapter 5, I report preliminary findings from working with teachers to develop their own comic spirits and to build a comic pedagogy. These findings emanate from teachers' participation in a humor studies course. In Chapter 6, I evaluate the findings reported in Chapter 5 and speculate on the future of humor studies and the hermeneutic potential of the joke.

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