1st Edition

Transgressive Humor in Classrooms Punching Up, Punching Down, and Critical Literacy Practices

By David E. Low Copyright 2024
    176 Pages 4 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    176 Pages 4 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    In this innovative book, David E. Low examines the multifaceted role of humor in critical literacy studies. Talking about how teachers and students negotiate understandings of humor and social critique vis-à-vis school-based critical literacy curriculums, the book co-examines teachers’ and students’ understandings of humor and critique in schools.

    Critical literacy centers discussions on power and social roles but often overlooks how students use transgressive humor as a means to interrogate power. Through examples of classroom interactions and anecdotes, Low analyzes the role of humor in classroom settings to uncover how humor interplays with critical inquiry, sensemaking, and nonsense-making. Articulated across the fields of literacy studies and humor studies, the book uses ethnographic data from three Central California high schools to establish linkages and dissonances between critical literacy education and adolescents’ joking practices. Adopting the dialectic of punching up and punching down as a conceptual framework, the book argues that developing more nuanced understandings of transgressive humor presents educators with opportunities to cultivate deeper critical literacy pedagogies and that doing so is a matter of social justice.

    Essential for scholars and students in literacy education, this book adds to the scholarship on critical literacy by exploring the subversive power of humor in the classroom.

    Foreword by Hilary Janks
    Prologue: Stop Me If You’ve Heard This One
    1. The Gremlin’s Work in the World
    2. Humor as a Tool for Sensemaking and Nonsense-Making: The Doubly Obligatory Chapter
    3. Punching Up and Punching Down: A Sorta Conceptual Framework
    4. “A Most Strange Revision”: Gremlins, Transgressive Humor, and Critique in/of School
    5. Fight the Power! (This Message Brought to You by the Power): Teachers, Transgressive Humor, and Framings of Critical Literacy
    6. Dehumanizing Humor as a Catalyst for Institutional Reckoning
    7. No Laughing Matter?: Rupturing the Solemnity of Critical Literacy Education


    David E. Low is an associate professor of literacy education at California State University, Fresno, USA.

    “It’s a hell of a thing how potently the insights of Transgressive Humor in Classrooms land. The eye-opening punchlines—empowering and infuriating alike—land one after another in Dr. Low’s analysis, illustrating the 'radical promise' of humor as a tool for transformation.”
    -Antero Garcia, Associate Professor in the Graduate School of Education, Stanford University, USA

    “If you’ve ever been the class clown, or envied one, or been afraid of one, this book is for you. David E. Low connects humor to social justice and transformation, and does so with compassion for every English teacher out there.”
    -Jessica Zacher Pandya, Dean of the College of Education, California State University, Dominguez Hills, USA

    “Through a crafty analysis of his experiences working with students in three schools in California, David E. Low invites us to open spaces for humor and comedy as possibilities for discomfort and transgression, and to make better schools. His work reminds us that when comedians are not gremlins or tricksters, they are nothing less than court jesters, happy to make oppressors smile.”
    -Raúl Alberto Mora, Associate Professor, Universidad Pontificia Bolivariana, Colombia