“It is Just a Joke”: The use of Jokes and Humor in Far Right Extremism from a Psychoanalytic and Critical Theory Perspective

March 11, 2019

Claudia Leeb 

Monday, March 11, 6:00PM–8:00PM, Room 7000, SFU Harbour Centre 

Co-sponsored by SFU's Institute for the Humanities 

This paper brings Sigmund Freud’s critical theorizing of jokes and humor in conversation with Theodor W. Adorno’s critical theorizing of laughter to grasp the growing appeal of the “Alt-Right” (Alternative Right), a white-supremacist movement, for young, mostly male, millennials whose core aim is to create in the United States of America something akin to the National Socialist Third Reich—a nation of white subjects, where all minorities are expelled, if necessary by violent means. I show that the use of racist and sexist jokes and humor to gain and retain new followers connects Alt-Right extremism with Trumpism, and thereby challenge scholars that aim to disassociate Trumpism from the Alt-Right. 


Claudia Leeb is an Associate Professor in political theory in the School of Politics, Philosophy, and Public Affairs at Washington State University. She works at the intersection of early Frankfurt school critical theory, feminist theory, and psychoanalysis to address questions of power and rebellion. She is the author of The Politics of Repressed Guilt (2018, Edinburgh University Press), Power and Feminist Agency in Capitalism (2017, Oxford University Press),Working-Class Women in Elite Academia (2004, Peter Lang Publisher), and Die Zerstörung des Mythos von der Friedfertigen Frau (1998, Peter Lang Publisher). She has articles published in Political Theory, Theory & Event, Perspectives on Politics, Constellations, Social Philosophy Today, The Good Society, The Berlin Journal of Critical Theory, Open Cultural Studies, Philosophy & Social Criticism, and Radical Philosophy Review. She has also contributed several book chapters to anthologies on Frankfurt school critical theory.


Christopher Fortune is a historian of psychoanalysis who chairs the Psychoanalytic Lecture Series and is an Associate of the Humanities Institute.