In episode #11 I had the pleasure of interviewing Professor Michael Billig. Michael Billig currently works as Professor of Social Sciences at Loughborough University in the U.K.
It’s no overstatement to say that his work, even from his early postgraduate days – working with Henri Tajfel, the world renowned social psychologist, has been hugely important to contemporary understandings of social psychology. Apart from his academic prowess, it turns out that Michael is also an absolute gentleman and a pleasure to speak with.
The main focus of our conversation was the topic of his book Laughter and Ridicule: Towards a Social Critique of Humour (Published in association with Theory, Culture & Society), in which he explores the important role which ridicule and laughter play in shaping social behaviours. In his book, Michael takes a critical approach to the topics of laughter and humour and he questions the common assumptions which are made, in particular by popular and academic psychology. Michael explores the paradoxical aspects of laughter, which he considers to be a rhetorical action, rather than a simple physiological expression of joy and merriment and he explores how laughter and humour influence society in terms of regulation, control and freedom. Essentially, Michael proposes a social theory that places humour – in the form of ridicule – as being central to social life. In fact, he argues that all cultures use ridicule as a disciplinary means to uphold norms of conduct and conventions of meaning.
To give you some context to my conversation with Michael, when I did my primary degree in psychology with the Open University I found that aspects of the degree had strong critical social psychology leanings. That being the case, the name of Michael Billig often came up, so for me to get the opportunity to speak with Michael is a true honour and it took a few months for me to line up the interview, because Michael is a very busy man.
I have to give you a head’s up on a problem I ran across during the recording. Unfortunately, one of us had a pretty lousy sound set up (I’m not pointing any fingers) and as a result there’s an awful lot of interference while Michael is speaking. (see how I used ridicule there against the man himself). We tried to sort it out during the recording, but there was nothing we could do, as the buzzing sound would come and go. Personally, I think Michael was cutting the grass as he spoke to me. You can make your own mind up on that.
I’m embarrassed to say that I spent almost three days editing and trying to clean up this 39 minute recording, which has to be a podcasting inefficiency record, so I’d really appreciate if you could try to overcome the interference and try not to let it get in the way of your enjoyment of the episode. For me, it was worth the effort. I hope you enjoy it too.
Talk to you soon,