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Humour in the Swedish Court: managing emotions, status and power

Chapter in book
Authors Stina Bergman Blix
Åsa Wettergren
Published in Judges, Judging and Humour
Pages 179-209
ISBN 978-3-319-76737-6
Publisher Palgrave Macmillan
Place of publication London
Publication year 2018
Published at Department of Sociology and Work Science
Pages 179-209
Language en
Keywords Humour, Judges, Power, Prosecutors, Status
Subject categories Law and Society, Social Psychology, Sociology (excluding Social Work, Social Psychology and Social Anthropology)


This chapter analyses humour from an emotion sociological perspective, linking humour to power, status, and group solidarity. It draws from about 300 observed trials and interviews with 43 judges and 41 prosecutors from four Swedish district courts. Humour is sometimes skilfully used as a strategy to ease tension, relieve boredom or to reprimand. It is initiated/allowed by the judge, but high-status lawyers or prosecutors may take the initiative. Judges may use humour to uphold an effective and smooth procedure, attenuating their own power. It is generally unacceptable to laugh at the expense of lay- (low-power) people present in court. Inter-professional humour takes place in intermissions during the hearings, while trials running over several days may include the defendants in the semi-backstage inter-professional joking. Most in-court humorous incidents are unintended, where laughter is suppressed or released depending on the judge. Humour has different functions and expressions frontstage (in court) and backstage (office, lunch room). Observation of both arenas reveal its shame-management function in inter-professional relations. While the judges’ backstage area teems with jokes about embarrassing procedural mistakes, prosecutors’ backstage humour more often deals with the foulness and tragedy of criminals and crimes.

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