Sociological Indicators of Ethical Attitude toward Ethnic Humor: An Empirical Study on Persian Jokes

By Haghish, E. F.; Heydari, Arash et al. | Asian Social Science, November 2012 | Go to article overview

Sociological Indicators of Ethical Attitude toward Ethnic Humor: An Empirical Study on Persian Jokes


Haghish, E. F., Heydari, Arash, Biegler, Robert, Pfuhl, Gerit, Teymoori, Ali, Asian Social Science


Abstract

People's ethical attitude toward ethnic humor (EATEH) is not well-investigated. The present article explores the relation of gender, anomie, socioeconomic status, ethnocentrism, and national identity to ethical attitude toward ethnic humor. 500 high school students were surveyed from 10 high schools of Ahvaz, Iran. Findings revealed that attitudes toward jokes are significantly related to the dimensions of ethnocentrism, anomie, socioeconomic status, national identity, and gender. A significant proportion of the EATEH's variance was predicted by socioeconomic status and anomie, whereas ethnocentrism was still significant but played only a minor role. Further, on average men show prejudice more openly than women. Findings show that ethical attitude of individuals toward ethnic humor have been rooted and influenced by sociological factors most notably their social context and feeling of anomie.

Keywords: ethnic jokes, anomie, socioeconomic status, ethnocentrism, national identity, Iran

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1. Introduction

Compared to psychologists, sociologists have had little interest in studying unserious social discourse such as joke and humor (Mulkay, 1988). As a result, less attention has been devoted to the sociology of ethnic jokes (Best, 2007; Davies, 1998). Since the 1980s, however, there has been increased interest in studying the origin and function of ethnic jokes (Martin, 1998). Sociological research on ethnic jokes has centered on sources of ethnic humor, which are "ethnocentrism, in-group adulation, out-group resentment, prejudice, and intolerance of the life-styles of others (Apte, 1985)." In addition, sociological studies have shown interest in studying the functions of ethnic jokes in multiethnic society (see below). Yet, people's perception of the rightness and wrongness of this type of humor has been neglected. Similarly, sociological factors that might influence people's ethical attitude toward ethnic and racist jokes - i.e. factors that encourage or discourage people to tell and enjoy ethnic jokes- have not been well-investigated. In the current study, we aim to address questions such as how do people ethically judge ethnic or racist jokes? Do they have any notion that telling such jokes might be ethically wrong? What sociological factor can predict people's ethical attitude toward ethnic humor?

To address these questions we surveyed Iranians. Iran is home to 74 million people who are culturally, linguistically, ethnically, and religiously diverse. The core ethnic group is Persian with over 51 per cent of Iran's population, as compared with Turks, Lurs, Kurds, Baluchis, Arabs, Christians, Jews, Zoroastrians, and other minorities who constitute less than half of population of the country (Hassan, 2007). In broad terms, Iranian ethnic rivalries have been less discussed during the recent decades but explicit ethnic prejudice has remained evident in this country (Amirahmadi, 1987; Asgharzadeh, 2007; Van Gorder, 2010). Research has shown that globalization and feelings of discrimination have isolated peripheral ethnic groups in Iran leading them to develop stronger ethnic identities and be more pessimistic toward the out-groups (Fokoohi & Amoosi, 2009; Koutlaki, 2010; Moghadas Jafari, Sheikhavandi, & Sharifpour, 2008; Rabani, yazdkhasti, Hajiani, & Mirzaei, 2009; Shaffer, 2002). Such diversity of religions, customs, and ethnic identities have been pointed out by sociological studies as an ample background for ethnic humor, which is a popular type of joke in Iran (Apte, 1985, 1987; Davies, 1982, 1990; Mik-Meyer, 2007).

Haghish et al., (Submitted) developed a new questionnaire for measuring ethical attitude toward ethnic humor (EATEH). They found that people have different ethical perspectives toward ethnic jokes. Some people perceive ethnic jokes as racist expressions, whereas others might call them only a nice joke. Further, they found that moral emotions such as empathy makes individuals develop criteria for distinguishing jokes that are in good or bad taste. …

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