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Carnivalesque politics and popular resistance: a Bakhtinian reading of contemporary Jordanian political humour

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis

This thesis examines contemporary Jordanian political humour in the context of the political history of Jordan and the 2011 Arab Spring revolutions. It applies Mikhail Bakhtin’s mid-20th century theory of carnival and the carnivalesque (folk humour) as a framework for thinking about Jordanian politics and political humour in social media spaces following the Arab Spring. The Bakhtinian approach to humour has predominantly focused on the role of humour as a revolutionary impulse that aims to attack and expose the shortcomings of established political power, as well as to highlight public attitudes towards that power. The analysis undertaken here of Jordanian politics and political humour in Jordanian social media spaces after the Arab Spring found that Bakhtin’s ‘marketplace’ is no longer the streets and material public spaces, but rather the social media spaces. The nature of the carnivals in social media spaces is in many ways just as carnivalesque as the ‘marketplace’ of Bakhtin’s Medieval France, characterised by polyphony, the overturning of social hierarchies and the presence of dialogism (and monologism) and the grotesque.

To more fully address the relevance – and some of the limitations – of application of Bakhtin’s ideas about carnival to the Jordanian socio-political context after the Arab Spring, this thesis analyses key political cartoons, satirical articles, comedy sketches, politically satirical videos and internet memes produced by Jordanians from the start of the Arab Spring to early 2019. The analysis reveals five salient qualities of carnivalesque political humour in Jordanian social media spaces following the Arab Spring: praising the government (intentionally satirical), parodying the government, mocking the government, scatalogising the government and, finally, dethroning the government (the temporarily and metaphorically comic death of the government). These five qualities collectively and individually provide us with a useful framework to think of contemporary Jordanian political humour as a time and place for socio-political ‘flattening’ and cathartic hedonism (but not revolution) that have led to changes in Jordanian society where people are more willing to criticise and mock the government. Such humour has allowed ridicule of the government but not of the monarch and allowed individuals (carnival-goers) in social media spaces to cope with socio-economic inequalities and the absurdities of political power.
Original languageEnglish
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Supervisors/Advisors
Award dateFeb 2020

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