The European Journal of Humour Research

Vol 10, No 1 (2022)

Ambivalent laughter: the key to preserving playtime

Michael Nugent


Arguments over the future of school playtime continue back and forth. Opinions range from the interval period envisaged as a waste of teaching and learning time to sentiments supporting a child’s right to free play. Neither view, however, addresses the principal issue.

If all laughter is ambivalent, which is the issue proposed here, then the central means by which pupils communicate on the primary school playground cannot be an indication of their contentment alone. The double, contradictory nature of ambivalency means that pupils’ laughter can also be an indication of their unhappiness. Playtime’s substantially serious dimension, therefore, invalidates any claims that playtime is simply a frivolous occasion and therefore expendable.

Mikhail Bakhtin’s work on the language of relationships and on ambivalent laughter provides this qualitative study with the fresh insights that can make a positive contribution to the ongoing playtime debate.


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