Humour across cultures. Research on transcultural humour in intercultural coaching and training settings

Master's Thesis, 2013

106 Pages, Grade: 1,3





Reflexivity statement


CHAPTER 2: Selected Theoretical basics on humour
2.1 Humour and the sense of humour
2.2 Types of humour
2.3 Communicational aspects of humour and its functions
2.3.1 Communicational functions of humour
2.3.2 Social functions
2.3.3 Psychological functions
2.3.4 Summary
2.4 Humour and context: Transcultural aspects of humour
2.4.1 The terminology of culture
2.4.2 Main assumptions on transcultural aspects of humour
2.4.3 The notion of context
2.4.4 Intercultural Coaching (ICC) and Intercultural Training (ICT) as context
2.5 Summing up: Specification of research objective, questions and hypotheses

CHAPTER 3: STUDY On Transcultural humour
3.1 Methodology
3.1.1 Introduction to qualitative social research: Qualitative and quantitative research
3.1.2 Application of qualitative research design with regards to the study
3.1.3 The Interview as data collection and theory proving method Characteristics of qualitative interview The problem-centred interview The expert interview The written interview The structured interview
3.1.4 Summary
3.2 Practical implementations: Research realisation and data collection
3.2.1 Research design: The interview guideline
3.2.2 The participants: Enrolment and description of the sample
3.2.3 Pre-test and conduction of interviews
3.2.4 Ethical aspects
3.2.5 Double-checking
3.2.6 Summary
3.3 Analysis of the interviews
3.3.1 Evaluation method: Qualitative content analysis (Mayring)
3.3.2 Evaluation procedure: Deductive and inductive category application
3.3.3 Summary
3.4 Presentation of results
3.4.1 Category I: Humour’s functions
3.4.2 Category II: Purpose of humour in ICC and ICT
3.4.3 Category III: Manner of humour application in ICC and ICT
3.4.4 Category IV: Transcultural humour (TCH)
3.4.5 Category V: Functions of TCH
3.4.6 Aspect analysis
3.4.7 Quality criteria of reliability and validity
3.4.8 Summary
3.5 Interpretation and discussion
3.5.1 Hypothesis I
3.5.2 Hypothesis II
3.5.3 Hypothesis III
3.5.4 Hypothesis IV
3.5.5 General assumptions and thoughts
3.5.6 Critics: Limitations and future implications The researches limitations Prospects for future studies
3.6 Concluding comments

Appendix i: Invitation Letters

Appendix II: Questionnaire

Appendix III: Information sheet

Appendix IV: Categories




The present research conducts interviews with eleven experts in Intercultural Coaching (ICC) and Intercultural Training (ICT) to assess the application of humour in counselling settings, and specific strategies and styles of its application. The research objective is to validate a transcultural humour and generate information in regard of its circumstanced criteria. As a result, according to the expert’s professional experience and expertise the currently scientifically disregarded phenomenon of transcultural humour could be verified and a definition of transcultural humour derived from the findings. Theoretical assumptions on specific criteria, subject matters and functions could be confirmed based on agreement of the experts.

Along with these theoretical assumptions, practical implementations for humour’s application in ICC and ICT settings are defined. As a result a transcultural humour must refer to a common point of reference, a context within the counselling setting or a wider one, which focuses on universal topics and humanity. Thus, intercultural coaches and trainers could apply humour more confidently as a tool for social, communicational and psychological purposes. At present, humour is mostly applied as a tool of insight and learning, however it is suggested to expand its application as a tool for discourse and social management as group binding or establishing a common ground in ICC and ICT as well to serve to relieve the clients tension.

Keywords: transcultural humour; Intercultural Coaching; Intercultural Training


This research project would not have been possible without the support of many people.

The author wishes to express her gratitude to her supervisors Prof. Dr. Schröder and Prof. Dr. Dr. Walach. They inspired her as visionaries, aspirators and pioneers, revolutionising German sciences.

Special thanks also to all the experts and the strong network of professionals in Intercultural Coaching and Training who took part in the study and contributed their time, expertise and experiences.

Realising this master thesis would not have been possible, without the technical support by Dirk Fiedler, methodical and contextual support by the great psychologist Franziska Naumann and the huge assistance and encouragement of the talented systemic Coach Britta Starke. She not only gave her time and knowledge without exception, but as well ensured applause at the finish line of this master marathon. Also special thanks must be expressed to language support by the wonderful and supportive Rachael Donovan.

The author wishes to express her love and gratitude to her beloved family; for their understanding and unconditional love, through the duration of her studies and life. Her parents taught her to think out of the box – holistic and complex – and past and future mentors Alexandra Schwarz-Schilling and Bajjinder Bhullar encouraged her to create impossible things by walking new paths.

Last but not least, her deepest gratitude goes to Mani Pournaghi who encouraged her to start the second studies after the diploma in psychology of communication and continue her university career.

Reflexivity statement

Working as a coach since 2007, I aim to focus on both the potential of individual and social resources to facilitate a peaceful togetherness.

Growing up in an East German town throughout the 90’s, I involuntarily witnessed racism and neo-fascism and I intuitively felt a strong sense of injustice and wrongness. Years later, I found myself studying Psychology of Communication; with a focus on intercultural communication. Writing my diploma thesis about the principles of Gandhi and his use for Intercultural Mediation it deepened my understanding and feeling of the necessity of peaceful togetherness – by constructive and positive psychological and communicational means. Thus, I chose coaching as my vocation after I completed my degree in Psychology of Communication. Over time I gently moved and developed in the direction of Intercultural Coaching – as I am living in the middle of Berlin’s multiculturalism in a multi-cultural house project of 28 people from up to 15 nationalities. I committed myself again to university and to the Masters program Intercultural Communication Studies. But very soon I recognized again, that cultural studies are focussing on issues (problem orientated), rather than resources – like coaching. I noticed a lack in recent research perspectives in this regard. I always hold coaching wisdom in my mind coupled with my motto “Whatever you focus on is what you get!” – positively as well as negatively.

As a master student, intercultural coach, and a member of a multicultural community, I privately researched on humour and its individual and social effects. While engaging myself voluntary to the North Indian non-governmental organisation EduCARE India in 2011 as an intercultural coach and trainer I spent three months living and working with an international team fulltime, sharing a house with team members from around the world. Through this experience, I consistently found that arising group issues were easily solved by (unintended) humour and laughing together. But why and how could a Brazilian laugh with an Indian, or a Rwandan with a Japanese or Chinese when cultural theories and findings suggest that humour is culture specific. These questions inspired my scientific journey to change the research perspective from interculturalism to transculturalism. Thus, the present study on transcultural humour is of private and professional interest but I believe is also important to add to the research in this field. As an intercultural coach and trainer, I aimed to engage and interview intercultural coaches and trainers worldwide, whilst at the same time strengthening my professional international network.

I aim to focus on what unites individuals across cultures, and on the shared human common ground and similarities to overcome existing differences. Humour might play a crucial role in this endeavour. If such a thing as transcultural humour does exists, why not make use of it as a constrictive means in Intercultural Coaching and Training to facilitate a shared common ground.

List of figures

Figure 1: Aspects of humour in the communication process (Modified original by Shannon & Weavers Model of communication, Shannon, 1948)

Figure 2: Nationality of experts by continent (Source: Own illustration)

Figure 3: First language of experts (Source: Own illustration)

Figure 4: Profession of experts (Source: Own illustration)

Figure 5: Years of experience as intercultural coach/ trainer (Source: Own illustration)

Figure 6: Region of origin of target groups (Source: Own illustration)

Figure 7: Step model of deductive category application (Mayring, 2000b, chap. 4.2)

Figure 8: Step model of inductive category application (Mayring, 2000b, chap. 4.1)

Figure 9: Humour preferences of interviewees (Source: Own illustration)

Figure 10: Importance of humour in ICC and ICT (Source: Own illustration)

List of tables

Table 1: Mutual process model of quantitative and qualitative research (Mayring, 2001, chap. 6)

Table 2: Sample selection strategy

Table 3: Research questions and assigned categories

Table 4: Hypothesis, assigned categories and research questions


Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten


Humour accompanies one daily: It is widely used in movies, and it is intentionally used in everyday life. One can recognize that humour makes one feel good, relieves tensions (created by inter- and intra-personal conflicts) and its charming character connects, bonds and unites us with the people surrounding us. Further, scientific therapeutic discourses identified humour and its popular response laughter benefits mental health and social contacts and therefore should be used in therapeutic practices. “For a few moments, under the spell of laughter, the whole man is completely and gloriously alive: body, mind and soul vibrate in union… the mind flings open its doors and windows… its foul and secret places are ventilated and sweetened” (Armstrong, as cited in Force, 2011, para. 13). Hence, it is suggested to rethink humour not only as a therapeutic instrument, but also as a useful tool in counselling settings like Intercultural Coaching and Training. The Riverside Toastmasters Club Ottawa (2006)1 suggest humour as a tool for effective communication: to keep the audience’s attention, to emphasize certain points for easy retention, to regain control over the meeting after a disturbance, to makes facts more palatable, to polarize the audience, and to promote a sense of unity.

One can recognize that humour and the sense of humour are highly appreciated to share within social interactions – within family and friends as well as with colleagues and managers in the workplace and even with strangers. It appears that one has it or does not: with some people one gets easily humorously along, with others she or he does not.

The science of psychology researched broadly on humour and the sense of humour, found (amongst others) differences based on personality (e.g. EysenCk, 1972, as cited in Martin 2007b; Hehl & Ruch, 1985). Also, cultural studies explored large cultural differences in humour generation, the use of humour and its appreciation (e.g. Alden, Hoyer & Lee, 1993; Nevo, Nevo & Yin, 2001; Chen & Martin, 2007). Its findings indicate that humour varies enormously among cultures. But what will be discovered if one starts to research from a perspective of transculturality ( WELSCH, 1999 ), that there exists a common ground between all humans across all cultures. Thus, the question remains, would research then find similarities in generation, application, functions and appreciation beyond culture?

For now, one only knows that in intercultural settings the practice of humour is delicate due to cultural differences. But is there a humour that works beyond cultures? Why is it possible that for example a Brazilian and a Chinese person could laugh (as a response to a humorous message) together about the same humorous interaction?

From a transcultural research angle the question of how to use a transcultural humour in intercultural coaching and training settings becomes relevant. Thus, the present study will examine the application and practice of humour by intercultural training and coaching experts for the first time. Their experiences in terms of its functions, its implementation and potential criteria of transcultural humour will be explored.

The present thesis will refer to theoretical concepts in humour research based on findings in social, communication and therapeutic psychology. It is for this reason, that a distinction between humour as a phenomenon (e.g. Martin, 2007a) and the sense of humour will be established (e.g. Ruch, 2007; Martin, 2007b, Craik & Ware, 2007). Reviewing current literature, the present thesis suggests humour as a communicational phenomenon (e.g. Reimann, 2010) and is presenting the function of humour on an interpersonal (social and communicational) and intrapersonal (psychological) level. Its function varies from mediation between people, avoidance of conflicts, or the improvement of communication climate amongst others (Hill & Fitzgerald, 2002). It can moreover function as a social management tool or as a tool of social play (Attardo, 1994). On the intrapersonal level humour can function as a coping strategy to relieve tension (e.g. Martin, 2007a), cope with stress and anxiety (e.g. Titze, 1995; Kuiper & Martin, 2007; Ventis et al., 2001) and as an instrument to create mirth (e.g. Martin, 2007a).

Subsequently, a concept and definition of transcultural humour will be introduced. Concerning this matter, not only cultural studies perspective definitions on culture (e.g. Hofstede, 1980; Hegemann & Oestereich, 2009; Barmeyer, 2005) will be provided, but as well the definitions of interculturality, multiculurality and transculturality according to Welsch (1999). By that, it is aimed to introduce a new research perspective: Presenting a shift from intercultural to transcultural assumptions and subsequently propose and form the concept of transcultural humour - which at this time is only named indirectly by Reimann (2010) or directly by Alexander (2007) and Kerr (n.d.), or indicated as hybrid humour by amongst others Dunphy & Emig (2010). So far, current research literature commonly indicates that humour is culture specific (e.g. G.J. Hofstede, 2007) but does not view it as transcultural – i.e. working across cultures.2 Researching on transcultural humour the present study seeks to examine humours similarities in all cultures, in contrast to the common assumption of untranslatabilty of humour (e.g. G.J. Hofstede, 2007).

ICT is a training practice of basic awareness and communication skills. For example it aims to prepare people for expatriation or work within multicultural teams by means of sensitizing the clients to cultural differences by creating cognitive insight and train the safe handling on the behavioural level (Scullion & Collings, 2006; Tung, 1981; Landis, Bennett & Bennett, 2004). ICC in contrast is part of counselling psychology, which is based on solution and goal orientated counselling processes that serve to find solutions on the individual level, such as coping with issues based on intercultural matters or improved self-development in view of intercultural topics (Nazarkiewicz & Krämer, 2012). Practice in both ICC and ICT go hand in hand as they sensitize cultural differences, illuminate varying styles of thinking and behaviour, provide information about the target culture (e.g. in a process of expatriation) and establish appropriate and expedient behaviour/s. Due to its shared content, it is on the one hand interesting to rethink humour as a tool in Intercultural Coaching and Training and on the other hand to assess and examine humours application in both counselling settings.

That led to the conducted written interviews with 11 intercultural coaches and trainers from around the world. Experts have been enrolled and involved via the social networking website for professionals LinkedIn. The problem-centred expert interview assessed firstly humours application in Intercultural Coaching and Training and subsequently in transcultural humour. Secondly, the present study provides primary information on how a transcultural humour can work (assessing criteria, topics, functions, styles) and why it is recommended to make use of humour in Intercultural Coaching and Training. For testing the research hypothesis and generating new knowledge on criteria, strategy of application and others of a transcultural humour, qualitative content analysis with deductive and inductive category building (Mayring, 2000a,b) has been applied.

Chapter 2 first presents an overview of the main theoretical basics on humour in general. It is distinguished between humour and sense of humour along with distinctions of humour types introduced, which are important to the conducted study. Moreover, communicational aspects of humour are presented and its communicational, social and psychological functions summarised. Subsequently, transcultural aspects of humour in relation to the notion and concept of context will be portrayed. Therefore, the research underlying definition of culture is pointed out and according to Welsch (1999) terms of mulitculturalism, interculturalism and transculturalism distinguished. In subsequence, assumptions on transcultural aspects are presented in view of current literature and the notion of context deriving from systemic research angle are mentioned to comprehend humours importance and practicability in ICC and ICT settings. An outline of the research setting in Intercultural Coaching and Training is given to set the frame for the examined field of research. This led to the specification of the research objective, research questions and the hypotheses that provide the basis for the conducted study. These theoretical basics on humour, transcultural aspects of humour and the context constitute the theoretical foundation for aim, question, methodology and methods of the research that are displayed in Chapter 3. In concrete, Chapter 3 discusses the methodological basics on qualitative research, the chosen methods, the outline of the interview conduction, the analysis by means of qualitative content analysis and category development, and furthermore the presentation and discussion of the findings to finally come up with theoretical and practical implementations of a transcultural humour in intercultural coaching and training settings and consequently enrich counselling and training for clients and coaches and trainers.

The present thesis aims to add value to the Intercultural Coaching and Training by introducing transcultural humour to coaches and trainers and broaden academic knowledge by deepening the understanding of transcultural humour.

CHAPTER 2: Selected Theoretical basics on humour

2.1 Humour and the sense of humour

When defining humour it appears to be important to briefly explore its etymological origin and history. The word humour derived from the Latin language and originally referred to each of the four main fluids in the body: blood, phlegm, yellow bile (choler) and black bile (melancholy). These liquids were thought to determine a person’s physical and mental qualities. Thus, in the English language humour relates to a persons´ mood as well. In contrast, a persons´ sense of humour is understood as the ability to understand and appreciate humour (Humour, 2013). Moreover, the Oxford English Dictionary defines humour as “that quality of action, speech, or writing which excites amusement; oddity, jocularity, facetiousness, comicality, fun” (Simpson & Weiner, 1989, p. 486). This leads to the following distinction: research discourses in general distinct between humour as a phenomenon (coping stress, mating success, health etc.) and the sense of humour as a person’s character trait (Ruch, 2007).3 The present study will focus on humour as a phenomenon.

Regarding humour as a phenomenon, Martin (2007a) understands humour as a social phenomenon. From a psychological perspective four essential components of the humour process can be distinguished: a social context, a cognitive-perceptual process, an emotional response and the vocal-behavioural expression of laughter.

1. Social context: Humour and laughter are fundamentally social (interpersonal) phenomena, thus humour is essentially a form of social play.
2. Cognitive-perceptual processes: Humour always involves some form of non-serious (playful) incongruity
3. Emotional component: Humour is essentially an emotion, expressed by the term “mirth”. Like all emotions, mirth has physiological, experiential, and behavioural components; it can vary in intensity – from mild amusement to hilarity.
4. Laughter as the nonverbal behavioural expression of mirth: it is a form of social communication; it signals to others that one is experiencing the emotion of mirth.

Understanding humour as a social phenomenon, in this thesis it is suggested as a communicational phenomenon also. Citing Lee (1994), Reimann (2010) states “(…) humour is a communicative situation in which we must make new conventional rules that involve explicitly discussing the cultural knowledge that we take for granted in the humorous message“ (p. 25).

(…) identify three essential dimensions of humor: as a human act, as a quality of one’s personality, and as a creative process. All three of these dimensions are important to a broadened re-conceptualization of humor and its complex relations with intercultural communication. (Hill & Fitzgerald, 2002, p. 99)

Consequently, it appears important to emphasis Hill and Fitzgerald (2002) who proposed a distinction of humour as a rhetorical technique between singular rhetorical tactic, and humour as a rhetorical strategy4. “Practically expressed, one might use humour as specifically and simply as a brief justification for a slip-up that occurs in the course of doing something else more important, or more broadly and strategically one might systematically employ stereotyped slogans to suppress categorically a group of people” (p. 99). Additionally, Long and Graesser (1988) stress the different functions in spoken and written discourses of humorous statements as speech acts. “Some involve social satire a play on words, while others have as their target criticism of either men or women or a particular group, nation or race” (Schmitz, 2002, para. 4; see Chapter 2.2).

Beyond, it could be distinguished between humour competence and humour performance:

Humor competence is the capacity of a speaker to process semantically a given text and to locate a set of relationships among its components, such that he/she would identify the text (or part of it) as humorous in an ideal situation. (…) Humor performance is, on the contrary, the actual encounter of two speakers (not necessarily physically copresent), in a given actual place and time, i.e., in a given context. In its simplest prototypical form, speaker A says something and speaker B processes the text (what A said) and, having recognized the humor, reacts by laughing. (Attardo, 1994, p. 161)

These given definitions and approaches of the concept of humour are a result of the perspective of humour creators of humour or humorous messages (see Chapter 2.3 - Model of communication). On the receivers part the reaction to it needs to be highlighted.5 “Humor often results in the behavioral manifestation of a smile or laughter, but, we would argue, humor can be internalized without behavioral manifestation” (Hill & Fitzgerald, 2002, p. 98). But although smile and laughter are the humour’s expressions6, they are do not always indicate the presence of humour.

The theoretical concept of sense of humour in particular is used in a more specific way: it refers to a personality trait or individual difference variable, and is viewed as a construct within the domain of personality psychology (Martin, 2007b). Humour is involving both trigger (stimulus) and response (Lyttle, 2002). According to Ruch & Hehl (1985) the sense of humour may relate to differences in: (1) the degree to which individuals comprehend humorous stimuli; (2) the way in which they express humour and mirth (quality and quantity); (3) the individuals ability to create humour; (4) the appreciation of humorous stimuli (5) the extend to which they actively seek out humorous sources; (6) their memory for humorous events and jokes; and (7) their tendency to make use of humour as a coping mechanism.

Grasping the sense of humour as a persons´ quality or character trait, humour may be defined as an individual personal tendency to make symbolic inducements to amuse. By using the term sense of humour one can recognize the relative presence of this tendency to amuse as a pattern of behaviour for an individual (Hill & Fitzgerald, 2002). That is to say, the notion of sense of humour subserves to explain individual differences in producing and perceiving humour. Moreover, Craik and Ware (2007) distinguish the sense of humour as humour generation skills, humour comprehension skills and humour appreciation skills. Humour generation skills refer to the production of humour, humour comprehension skills mean the ability to understand humorous material or situations, and humour appreciation is the disposition to enjoy and react on humour.

To sum up, there is a distinction to be made between humour as a phenomenon and the concept of sense of humour. The latter includes humour appreciation, creation, comprehension on both levels, the humour creator and receiver (see Chapter 2.3. - Model of communication). Further, the term humour refers to a wide range of concepts and types of humour such as amusement, wit, satire etc. Relating to humour as a phenomenon, evaluative assumptions have been made in terms of its functions. (Martin, 2007a)

Trying to determine the essence behind humour has vast implications for understanding language and communication strategies, psychology and cognitive processes as well as social, personal or cultural values, beliefs, attitudes and perspectives. The key to understanding these processes and conventions on either a personal or social level requires a deeper consideration of the structure and method of humour in a particular context, timing and intent. (Reimann, 2010, p. 24)

To use humour in intercultural settings the understanding and awareness of context is inevitable (Reimann, 2010). This aspect will be discussed below (see Chapter 2.4.3).

In the present thesis it will be related to humour as a phenomenon. In concrete, it is intended to examine humour as a phenomenon of communication. Hence, the following chapters at first will summarize types of humour in order to provide the theoretical background for the research, and then highlight humour’s communicational aspects and its functions.

2.2 Types of humour

Due to difficulties in defining humour, various approaches on humour and the lack of a consistent terminology lead to a different list of humours depending on the author.

In general, it needs to be differentiated between verbal and nonverbal humour (Urios-Aparisi & Wagner, 2008). The latter are for example funny actions and mimicry (Reekmans, 2005). Urios-Aparisi and Wagner compiled a list of nine types of verbal humour, they adapted from different researchers: joke (e.g. Long & Graesser, 1988; Bryant et al., 1980; Attardo, 1994), riddle, pun, funny story, funny comment, irony and sarcasm (Bryant et al.), fantasy play (Hay, 2001), and teasing (Attardo).

Moreover, they used Long and Graesser’s (1988) categories for general types of humour (Urios-Aparisi & Wagner, 2008) and defined seven types: satire, overstatement and understatement, self-deprecation, replies to rhetorical questions, clever replies to serious statements, double entendres and transformation of frozen expressions.

Depending on the content Schmitz (2002) distinguishes between (1) universal or reality-based humour, (2) cultural or culture-based humour and (3) linguistic or word-based humour. Additionally, according to Martin (2007a) humour is distinguished in respect of its intention – whether it is intentional or unintentional. And Samson and Gross (2012) distinguish between positive (good natured) and negative (mean-spirited) humour. This particular separation could be complemented by humour styles complied by Dobson (2006): the put-down humour, the bonding humour, the hate-me humour, and the laughing at life humour. These four styles and their intentions already reveal humours functions, which will be discussed below (see Chapter 2.3).

Moreover, Utios-Aparisi and Wagner (2008) distinguish four general types of humour as follows: (1) humour production (the usage of humour); (2) humour interpretation respectively the reaction to humour; (3) the social function of humour and (4) content, that is given by the usage of humour.7

The following chapter will first introduce humour as a communicational phenomenon by setting up a model of simplified humorous communication that is based on the prominent Shannon-Weaver model (Shannon, 1948). Like Craik and Ware (2007; see Chapter 2.1) and Utios-Aparisi and Wagners (2008) it follows the distinction of humour generation and humour receiving, to subsequently discuss humours communicational, social and psychological functions in detail.

2.3 Communicational aspects of humour and its functions

In this thesis, humour is defined as a communicational phenomenon as part of a social phenomenon and it can have several meanings to a person who is making use of it and it’s addressees. “Just as these amusing aspects of life help us personally cope with our world, they can also assist us in varied ways to manage other complexities of social life“ (Hill & Fitzgerald, 2002, p. 93). In the following, its communicational, social, and psychological functions will be discussed to understand its necessity and potential in ICC and ICT settings. Consequently, humour can be seen as a tool (e.g. Attardo, 1994; Saroglou, 2002; see Chapters 2.3.1, 2.3.2) and a communication technique (Hill & Fitzgerald; see Chapter 2.1) in interactions.

Below, Figure 1 introduces and illustrates humour as an act of communication. This depiction is a simplified model of humour, which is based on the fundamental assumptions of communication of the prominent Shannon-Weaver model of communication (1947; Shannon, 1948)8. It helps to demonstrate the communicational aspect of humour and the research perspective of the present study.

Figure 1: Aspects of humour in the communication process (Modified original by Shannon & Weavers Model of communication, , 1948)

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Figure 1 shows the research focus and aim as well as possible factors that influence humour as communicational phenomenon. In the present study the focus lies on the humour creator’s (source) perspective, specifically on experts of Intercultural Coaching and Training. Moreover it serves to define and locate the present research angle: the humours generators´ perspective (coaches and trainers) and the definition of humour as a communicational phenomenon.

In concrete, a humorous communication act develops as follows: The generator of humour (source) intends to send a message. He or she encodes the content of message particularly as a humorous message – consciously or unconsciously. On the part of the receiver, he or she needs to decode the humours message to understand and react to it. The situational context can be understood as the shared context of the communicants such as culture, environment of the organization, family or friendship context or coaching and training settings (see Chapter 2.4.4). The processes of encoding and decoding are supposed to be influenced by situational context like culture or power distance, and influence the practice, perception and functioning of humour. The thesis intends to find a transcultural code that works in intercultural coaching and training settings.

A distinction of the situational context in individual and cultural aspects is suggested in the process of humour communication as an explanatory approach to understand interpersonal differences. In this way, the process of encoding and sending a message by the source (generator of the message) is individually and culturally shaped. Both individual and cultural influences impact on the chosen type of humour. On the receivers’ part, the process of decoding is again culturally and individually influenced. The ability to comprehend humour - the sense of humour (Craik & Ware, 2007) might also be individual and culturally shaped. And the skill to appreciate humour (ibid.) is proposed as an individual aspect only.

Examining the sender’s perspective (coach and trainer as humour generators), the present thesis aims to identify whether a transcultural humour exists and which are its criteria that work across cultures, besides cultural en- and decoding (see Chapter 2.4.2). These research questions are based on the research assumption that in general there is a transcultural humour that works across cultures. Moreover, it is assumed that humour has some shared functions across cultures and can be used as a tool for specific purposes in counselling contexts such as ICC and ICT settings.

According to O´Keefe (1990) humour does not differ from any other kind of communication in terms of requiring a shared context between sender and receiver in order to make sense of the message. Only “the `coded´ nature of a humorous message makes the context even more important and even more selective” (Lyttle, 2002, The Ethics of Humor, para. 7).

As mentioned earlier, humour can be understood as tool for effective communication, to keep ones attention, highlight certain points to easily memorize them, to regain control after interpersonal disturbances, to make facts more interesting or to polarize or unite the humour receiver (Riverside Toastmasters Club Ottawa, 2006) (see Chapter 1). Hence, it can be applied in coaching or training to draw in clients and help them relax, to underline a point or increase the mood and to help them remember the message.

Next, the rather theoretical distinction of specific functions of humour will be discussed. The differentiation is rather theoretical, but in practice humours´ communicational, social and psychological functions are much more interlinked, as it will be presented subsequently.

2.3.1 Communicational functions of humour

According to Hill and Fitzgerald (2002) Meyer (2000) has identified four primary functions of humour in various communication situations.

Identification and clarification are two rhetorical functions that serve to unite people; in contrast, enforcement and differentiation serve to separate people. Whereas other rhetorical techniques might equally accomplish these functions, humor is a prominent message variable and vehicle for such interpersonal adaptation. From this pragmatic orientation we are also invited to observe how humor represents a set of tactics, rather than a singular tactic, for diverse use in human communication. Meyer’s efforts to specify these generic functions may help us develop a framework for applicability of humor within multiple cultures. (Hill & Fitzgerald, 2002, p. 97)

Understanding humour as a rhetorical technique (as suggested in Chapter 2.1), it may improve the communication climate of the work environment, in marital and other interpersonal relations, such as student-teacher interactions, in therapy situations at clinics and hospitals and in selected intercultural contexts9 (Hill & Fitzgerald, 2002). Moreover, humour has a crucial function in the management of self and interpersonal relations and according to Hill and Fitzgerald to avoid painful confrontations with others10.

It may be assumed that humour has the potential to divert problems and to generate a new perspective (reframe). As a tool of insight and cognition, its application has the power to introduce a cognitive meta-level in human communication for example to solve conflicts. This assumption can be underlined by systemic assumption by Saroglou (2002), who remarked that humour might be considered as a possibility to leave a closed, structured system. In regards to the conscious application of humour to create a meta-level in communication, the humour creator can employ humour as a tool of insight and learning – creating knowledge by for example using anecdotal humour. Morrison (2008) encouraged the use of humour to engage students and facilitate learning and suggests its positive effects on learning and creativity. This is supported by Lyttle´s (2001) studies on humours effectiveness in persuasion in business ethics training, which is used both in advertisement (Heinecke, 1997) and education (Wallinger, 1997). His findings suggested that ironic humour may be more effective than cartoon drawings and self-effacing humour may be most effective of all (Lyttle, 2001).

Referring to humour as a communicational phenomenon, its communicational functions might be applied in social interactions, which makes them social functions too. Based on the humour’s communicational aspects and functions its social and psychological functions will be explored next.

2.3.2 Social functions

According to the humour researcher Attardo (1994) humour has four social functions. It serves social management, decommitment, mediation, and defunctionalisation.

- Social Management: Referring to Attardo, humour is used as a tool towards social management “to facilitate in-group interaction and strengthen in-group bonding or out-group rejection” (p. 323). He located several instances using humour as a social management tool as follows:

1) Social control: The humour generator uses humour as a social corrective (Bergson, 2008[1900] ) that is to say he is embarrassing or intimidating (Long & Graesser, 1988) group members.
2) Conveying social norms: The humour creator uses humour to attract attention to for example taboos or unacceptable behaviour11. (Attardo, 1994)
3) Ingratiation: The sender tries to get attention and maintain liking (Long & Graesser, 1988). In addition, Attardo (1994) is referring to Adelswärd (1989), who showed how mutual laughter represents and builds group consensus.
4) Discourse management: Long and Graesser (1988) pointed out that humour can be used for "initiation, termination, passing (exchange of control), topic shift, checking" (p. 55).12
5) Establish common ground: The humour generator can use the hearer's reaction to humour to establish his/ her "attention, understanding, (...) degree of involvement" (Long & Graesser, 1988, p. 57).13
6) Cleverness: Humour needs extra processing, thus producing and understanding it connotes cleverness. Humour has positive connotations in our society. (Attardo, 1994)
7) Social play: "(T)he camaraderie generated through such play may function to strengthen social bonds and foster group cohesiveness" (Long & Graesser, 1988, p. 57).
8) Repair: “(U)npleasant situations may be defused by humorous comments, connoting positive attitude, in-group bonding, and levity” (Attardo, 1994, p. 324).

- Decommitment14: humour’s social function as decommitment is used as a facilitator to the speakers´ social interactions (Attardo, 1994). Quoting Kane et al. (1977) it is defined as "denying any harmful intention for an action" (Attardo, 1994, p. 325) and for the speaker to declare "that he/she did not have any intention of maintaining or carrying out or treating seriously an action that had been initially started" (Attardo, 1994, p. 325). Decommitments´ basis of the function is that humorous communication is retractable, thus according to Brown & Levinson (1978) “the speaker may back off from his/her utterance without loss of face” (cited in Attardo, 1994, p. 325). There are two essential techniques in decommitment:

1) Probing: Kane et al. (1977) created the scenario during the sociological research on the social functions of humour:

Standards of propriety may prohibit a person from directly asking others about [the value system of the group]. A less direct approach would be to make a humorous remark that communicates the source's interest: presumably, if the target laughs and later reciprocates with a similar form of humour, the social relationship has moved towards more intimacy without committing either party in such a way that he or she could be called to account for their actions. (Kane et al, 1977, cited in Attardo, 1994, p. 326).

Consequently, humorous interactions can be used as a tool of negotiation in penetrating the audiences with the “serious” contents. Topics that may be considered as too threatening can be approved by the use of these humorous interactions. Humorous interactions also can bring either an agreement or disagreement to one group or individual through explicit messages overtly delivered in aggressive humour. (Attardo, 1994)

2) Salvaging: By transmitting “serious” contents of humour, a speaker does not put himself in an unpleasant situation. Furthermore, he excuses himself that he did not mean it seriously. According to Kane et al. (1977) using humour in an unpleasant social situation could serve “to save the situation by indicating that the proposed or past action was not serious, but was instead meant as a joke" (cited in Attardo, 1994, p. 326).

- Mediation: Humour’s third social function, the mediation, serves to carry out potentially embarrassing or aggressive interactions. The mediation function is used as the denial or withdrawal of the speakers to retract responsibility for what has been said. In unpleasant circumstances the truthfulness of the utterances can be denied by saying that all of them are only kidding by using that mediating function. Thus, the burdens of consequences and responsibility of the speakers are decreasing, since humorous interaction is an accepted type of communication. However, not all humorous utterances can be denied. It might be considered very offensive when speakers deliver some aggressive jokes without stating some pre-existing excuses towards the jokes before delivering it. Or it might be considered insulting to mock one’s community or party while not being part of it. (Attardo, 1994) Additionally, the social function of humour mediation can be understood as a relief of tension between the interacting parties that are in conflict and of which a coach or trainer can make use.

- Defunctionalisation 15: The social function of defunctionalisation is the last primary function of humorous interactions: According to Long and Graesser (1988) a de-functionalized language is language that is not used for transmitting information (its principal function), but for playful purposes. Considering humour as a “play with language”16 so that the purpose of communication becomes a ritual of art. Citing Fry (1963) Attardo (1994) expresses that in general, meta-language stops conventional rules of language. Hence, the humour generator can take advantage of the meta-language and use it as an entertainment tool.

Moreover, the usage of humour from the speakers´ position in social interactions created in intercultural trainings and coaching could be added. In terms of a humour’s social function, its practice has an influence on the social positioning of the humour creator17, which is corresponding to Attardos (1994) social management function ingratiation. Whether the joke is working or not it has the power to enhance the speakers´ status. „(T)he ritual of joke telling strengthens group bonds. It provides the listeners with some novelty, and if they laugh, the joke teller’s status in the group is raised.“ (G.J. Hofstede, 2007, p. 2)

(…) humor can be a valuable means of interpersonal bonding for group development, can be a valuable release for hostilities between people in conflict, and can serve to soften the effect of constructive criticism. On the other hand, humor can also be a powerful means of antagonism, inciting ridicule, thwarting cooperation, and manipulating hostility. (Hill & Fitzgerald, 2002, p. 93)

Humour can function as social glue: as a rhetorical skill it can relax and entertain and incline one towards empathy with others (Basu, 1999). It can function as social regulation within group life (Fine & Soucey, 2005). Humour can be seen as a multifunctional management tool that enhances leadership, group cohesiveness, communication, creativity and organizational structure (Romero & Cruthirds, 2006). Moreover, Romero and Pescosolido (2008) draw attention to increased group effectiveness when using humour. In regards to the bonding aspect of humour, laughing together decreases ones anxiety (gelotophobia18 ) (Titze, 1995), which refers not only to the social functions but is also closely linked with the psychological purposes that are discussed in the following chapter.

2.3.3 Psychological functions

“There may be little humor in medicine, but there’s a lot of medicine in humor" (Conventional wisdom, Hill & Fitzgerald, 2002, p. 93). Therapeutic approaches on humour suggest humour’s potency

(...) to reduce the stress and frustrations of coping with our world. In this fashion humor serves to help us maintain our sanity, to sustain an even keel through turbulent waters, and to avoid the confrontational extremes with other people that over-seriousness can generate. (Hill & Fitzgerald, 2002, p. 96)

Humour’s benefits, especially the benefits of laughter on health and aging, have been scientifically well researched in the field of psychology such as positive psychology, personal psychology and therapeutics discourses (e.g. Fry, 1977 & 1979; Fry & Salameh, 1987; Lefcourt, 1986 & 1990). Consequently, there is wide range of literature to find on the therapeutic use of humour19 (e.g. Killinger, 1987; Olson, 1994; Robinson, 1990; Klein, 1989; Keller, 1984; Buckman, 1994; Sultanoff, 2002).

For Martin (2007b, p. 15) the psychological benefits of humour derived from the positive emotion generated to relief tension and coping with adversity. In his standard work “The psychology of humour” Martin (2007a, p. 15) outlined the psychological functions as follows:

1. Cognitive and social benefits of the positive emotion of mirth. Humour has a positive influence on cognitive flexibility, creativity, problem solving and memory as well as pro-social behaviour, helpfulness, and generosity. Thus, it helps to regulate interpersonal relationships (see Chapter 2.3.2).
2. Social communication and influence20: Humour has a face-saving function21 using humorous communication. It can be used to communicate both positive and negative messages indirectly22. The “laughing with” as well as the “laughing at” enhances social cohesiveness and exerts social influence.
3. Tension relief and coping with adversity: Finding humour in a stressful situation allows one to cope more effectively.

His distinction again reveals and proves the difficulty of a clear theoretical distinction of humour functions: its communicational, social and psychological ones. As stated before, they are to some degree interlinked and refer to each other. Nevertheless, the focus needs to be on the psychological function to cope with stress, failure and mental problems also. It functions as stress relief (e.g. Abel, 2002) and laughing itself has the strength to heal bad experiences. Thus, humour can be defined as an adaptive coping strategy that serves emotion regulation (Samson & Gross, 2012). Stoeber and Janssen (2011) found that humour as a coping strategy had positive effects on satisfaction: the more students used these coping strategies in dealing with failures, the more satisfied they felt at the end of the day. In other words, they found that humour as one out of three coping strategies (amongst positive reframing and acceptance) helps people to deal with personal failures.

The German psychologist Michael Titze (1995) appointed that laughing together, as a response to humour, had an affective group-binding function23 that provides a sense of belonging and self-assurance since it immunizes against the fear of being laughed at (gelotophobia). According to Kuiper and Martin (2007) it enhances social interactions, which lowers social anxiety. The researchers Ventis, Higbee and Murdock (2001) also found that humour has the potential to reduce fear. Kuiper and Martin summarized several research findings and underline humours positive effect on psychological health and well-being. In several surveys, humour correlated positively with specific character traits and found that in general it creates lower levels of negative affects like depression and anxiety, and higher levels of self-esteem, more positive social perception and relationships. The social function of humour to avoid painful confrontations with others by using humorous communication (Hill & Fitzgerald, 2002; see Chapter 2.3.1) has indirectly an influence on mental health as well.

The German “Galgenhumor” (“gallows humor”), refers to cynical humour that derives from stressful or traumatic situations. According to Antonin Obrdlik “gallows humor is an index of strength or morale on the part of oppressed peoples” (Force, 2011, para. 3). Force cited the study December 4, 2003 issue of Neuron which found that humour has similar effects on the brain as drug-induced euphoria: Brain scans indicated that humour not only stimulated the brains´ language processing centres, but also stimulated its reward centres, which was leading to the release of dopamine, a powerful neurotransmitter involved in the regulation of the pleasure-reward system.

2.3.4 Summary

In sum, various functions are attributed to humour. In current research and literature its social and psychological purpose are well described and researched. A deficit could be noticed referring to its communicational functions that were differentiated additionally. Nevertheless, this distinction is rather theoretical. Thus, in practice the functions are overlapping. In concrete, literature suggests functions such as coping with stress to decrease stress levels, as cognitive distraction, resolution-finding strategy, reducing fear, emotion regulation and social regulation as well as resolving conflicts. Accordingly, in regard to its functions one need not only comprehend humour as a social, communicational and psychological phenomenon but as suggested earlier as a management tool in groups (Romero & Cruthirds, 2006; see Chapter 2.3.2), for social regulation (Fine & Sourcey, 2005; see Chapter 2.3.2) and communication tool to e.g. create insight (Saroglou, 2002; see Chapter 2.3.1).

2.4 Humour and context: Transcultural aspects of humour

Based on the theoretical introduction on humour in general, its types and functions, the following paragraphs consider its transcultural aspects. Due to the fact that the transcultural research perspective on humour is relatively new and theoretically mainly unheeded the possible transcultural aspects of humour will be firstly named, then the more detailed features that are essential for the present study will be outlined.

Transcultural aspects of humour and thus research perspectives are expected to be

- Transcultural functions of humour
- Transcultural sense of humour (Transcultural generation and appreciation skills)
- Transcultural definition of humour (Transcultural understanding of humour)
- Transcultural humour expressions

As the present study focuses on basically on functions and definition of transcultural humour, in the following chapter the terminology of culture and transculture will be discussed. Then, considerations on the notion of transcultural humour and its relation to the concept of context will be examined.

2.4.1 The terminology of culture

In Welschs (1999) well-known essay “Transculturality - the Puzzling Form of Cultures Today” he presents the concept of culture that is most appropriate to most cultures today: the concept of transculturality. Therefore, he differentiated between the classical concept of single cultures, and the more recent concepts of interculturality and multiculturality. The common definition of culture is divisive by stressing single cultures. Hence,

Kultur ist ein für uns alle geltender Hintergrund von etablierten und über Generationen überlieferten Sichtweisen, Werten, Ansichten und Haltungen, welche einerseits unser ganzes Denken, Fühlen und Handeln beeinflussen, die wir andererseits aber in individueller wie auch kollektiver Weise übernehmen, modifizieren und weiterentwickeln, und zwar in Abhängigkeit von unserer Teilhabe an unterschiedlichen Kontexten. (Hegemann & Oestereich, 2009, p. 12)24

Here, the underlying concept of culture is based on Hofstedes definition: Culture constitutes a system of orientation and reference and can be understood as “a collective programming of the mind which distinguishes the members of one human group from another” (Hofstede, 1980, p. 25). According to Hegemann and Oestereich (2009) culture is dynamic and context specific. Tseng and Streltzer (2004) emphasised that culture is permanently in process of change; “Culture shapes people’s behavior, but at the same time it is molded by the ideas and behavior of the members of the culture. Thus, culture and people influence each other reciprocally and interactionally“ (p.1).

Based on Barmeyers (2005) assumptions in intercultural contexts different cultural systems seem to clash. Therefore, it appears relevant to stress the specification and theoretical distinction of the conceptual terms interculturality, multiculturality and transculturality 25 according to Welsch (1999).

Multiculturality (Latin: multi, “many, numerous”) describes a society, in which several cultures as globosity (Kugelgestalt) – a metaphor, which refers to Herder – exist next to each other. This culture is a mosaic of diverse cultures within one society. This concept still guards the concept of single cultures.

Interculturality (Latin: inter, “between, among”) in contrast, tries to cross cultural differences and accomplish a dialogue between cultures. This concept again produces, reproduces and reinforces cultural differences (Welsch, 1999).

As Welsch (1999) pointed out “Transculturality is, in the first place, a consequence of the inner differentiation and complexity of modern cultures” (ibid., chapt. III.1, emphasis in original). Moreover, he states “Cultures today are in general characterized by hybridization 26 (…) For every culture, all other cultures have tendencially come to be inner-content or satellites” (ibid., chapt. III.1, emphasis in original). Petersen (n.d.) stated “The idea of transculturality takes into account the internal complexities and constant variations characteristic of every culture, as well as recognizing the degree to which cultures are becoming inseparably linked with one another.“

His suggestion of the concept transculturality27 (Latin trāns, “across, beyond, through”) may be complemented as a process of integration and an abolishment of the concept of separation between “foreign” and “familiar”28. It needs to be highlighted that the value of this concept is to overcome cultural differences by searching for common ground (see Chapter 2.4.3). This is a relatively new perspective in culture-related research and discourses, such as cultural sciences and transcultural psychology29. Thus, in the following paragraphs it will be referred to Welschs (1999) notion of transculurality and the understanding of humour as a dynamic process (Hegemann & Oestereich, 2009).

To sum up, the term transcultural refers to the act of interlinking cultures and overcoming cultural gaps. On the contrary, the conceptual terms intercultural (another term is cross-cultural) and multicultural both indicate differences between cultures and refer to the theoretical concept of a single culture.

Like Hegemann and Oestereich (2009) who suggested culture as a dynamic process, Kemmelmeier and Kühnen (2012) defined culture a process rather than a “thing”. They stated that culture is dynamic which includes its potential to change over time. “(…) (E)ven when cultural patterns appear to be relatively stable over time, culture is continuously being produced and reproduced in the dynamic interaction between individuals and their social and natural environment” (p. 171). They emphasised that culture lies within and outside the individual and consequently there are great differences between individuals in the same culture, as well as within each individual across different situations (ibid.).

2.4.2 Main assumptions on transcultural aspects of humour

Humans in all cultures engage in humour and laughter (Martin, 2007a) and laughter is understood as a universal human trait (Wende, 2008). The American professor of psychology and neuroscience Provine (1999) stated, “Laughter is part of the universal human vocabulary“ (para. 1). But does a transcultural humour exist - a humour that works across cultures? And if yes, what might be its criteria? In the following, the focus will be on aspects of humour that tend to be transcultural and how they can be used to generate a transcultural humour.

Gert Jan Hofstede´s30 (2007) findings from his cross-cultural research perspective confirmed that there are cultural differences in the process of joking, in joke style, and in the content of jokes using the five basic aspects of culture: collectively, hierarchy, aggression, otherness, and need gratification. Based on this single culture research perspective (see Chapter 2.4.1) amongst others, he stressed the following results along cultural dimensions: Firstly, he assumed that the culture of the joke creators affects the joke style and its content. He suggested that jokes are created about themes that are salient in the culture of their creators. Secondly, he stated that the culture of the joke generators and receivers affects joking as a social activity. He stated that for example in collectivist cultures, jokes tend to be contextual thus there is a need to integrate the conversation in which they occur. Moreover, in hierarchical cultures, joking about worldly or spiritual leaders is dangerous and in masculine cultures, joking about morality is to be avoided. And thirdly, he asserted that jokes carry culture, as they are a form of folk tales. (ibid.)

Whether it is as a result of Geert Hofstede´s (1980) research standpoint: He has outlined the differences between cultures, which concluded on prominent findings of cultural dimensions, as a result of significant surveys. Understanding this as a limitation in research a shift of research focus needs to be conducted: the present thesis focuses on the similarities between cultures in contrast to the prevalent focus on cultural differences in cultural research disciplines with focus to Welsch´s (1999) transcultural perspective. Furthermore, one can argue that from a constructivist point of view, personal reality is created. Consequently, focussing on the differences of culture differences will be reproduced. That is to say, it is assumed that by focalizing on the similarities, this may reveal similarities in usage and application, generation, appreciation and functions of humour across cultures.

Humour as a communicational phenomenon may function as group and culture bonding in ICC and ICT settings. In the present study the term transcultural humour has been picked to focus the aspects of the phenomenon beyond culture.

In contrast to G.J. Hofstedes (2007) cultural specific assumption regarding humour, the survey by Reimann (2010) published in his essay “Intercultural communication and the essence of humour” suggested some transcultural deliberations on humour.31 He researched on the questions: What is humour? (Are there any common or universal elements present in something funny? Are there any essential elements required for something to be considered funny?) And what elements allow humour to transcend cross-cultural boundaries? The findings of Reimann suggested that from the receiver perspective the appreciation of humour varies greatly in regards to personality, gender, experience and culture. The greatest barriers of comprehension and enjoyment of humour are according to Reimann, namely cultural differences, language and lack of shared knowledge. Nevertheless, he found that certain types of humour, which do not require specialised language, background knowledge or culture specific matters are more successful across cultures. Moreover, exemplified by Mr. Bean or Jack Ass humour he found that nonverbal and context general examples are more successful with a wider range of audiences. Although, he found cultural differences in humour appreciation in reference to types of humour, he stressed that humour varies greatly - not only across cultures but also on all levels of individual and social difference (see below – same chapter Crowe et al.).

Types of humour, which are deeply rooted in culture, linguistic knowledge or “insider” perspectives usually fail to cross over the cultural abyss. Most universally appreciated examples of humour are those that are simple, highly visual and in tune with the basics of innate or more primal levels of human common sense. (Reimann, 2010, p. 25).

And consequently he advised, that trying to understand transcultural humour it is imperative to understand and know about the cultural differences of humour in its conventions, rules, techniques, expectations, methods and taboos (Reimann, 2010).

In sum, Reimann (2010) emphasised transcultural aspects of humour according to its possible types and criteria’s: it has to be humour that does not require a specific language, culture specific and general background knowledge. That is to say, that a transcultural humour may need to be context unspecific (see Chapter 2.4.3) – Reimann called it “context general” (p. 31) - or as additionally suggested, humour needs to be based on a shared context of the communicants involved in the humorous communication. If one assumes that a nonverbal humour works transculturally better than verbal humour it could be put into question which types of humour it might be in concrete.

Additionally to humours transcultural types, humours transcultural aspects regarding its functions will be stretched. The therapeutic approaches on humour suggest humour as a coping strategy (see Chapter 2.3.3) Hill and Fitzgerald (2002) “suspect that some generic patterns of relief and release are operating across cultures (…)” (p. 96). In addition, in the course of the thesis broader ideas such as transcultural functions (social, communicational and psychological) like group binding, solving conflicts, a tool of insight and social management will be introduced (see Chapter 2.3.1- 2.3.3).

As present literature does not provide a definition for transcultural humour on the basis of Reimans (2010) findings, it might be preliminary defined as a humour that works across cultures, which is referring to or creating a shared context or point of reference outside a cultural frame and thus beyond cultural differences and cultural based barriers.

On the level of individual perception of humour – in terms of the sense of humour Koestler (1964) outlined in his standard work The Act of Creation, that finding something funny is an emotional intellectual reaction. That is to say, one cannot laugh about a joke that has to be explained, because the resolution of the clash of reference frame needs to be felt. It needs to be experienced emotionally. He found that the experience of humour relies on feeling an emotionally satisfying discharge of the emotional tension that is created by the collision of two incompatible frameworks. The elements of emotional charge, surprise, and cleverness are needed.

The authors Crowe, Raval, Trivedi, Daga and Raval (2012) stated that experiences and expressions of emotions are representing culturally grounded dynamic processes that vary within and between individuals. They leaned to Kitayama, Mesquita and Karasawa (2006) proposition that emotions are meaningful processes, which reflect individuals’ relationship to their social environment. Understanding independence and interdependence as the two major cultural tasks to be found in all societies and within every individual, the expression of emotions might be experienced and expressed internally as a symbol of individuality (independence) or their expression and experience is shaped by the consideration of others (interdependence). In other words, “emotions may be experienced and expressed for the purpose of maintaining social relationships and interpersonal harmony, and emotions that threaten one’s relationships with others may be less likely to be communicated” (Crowe et al., 2012, pp. 205-206). Cultural differences in conceptualizing, expressing and controlling emotions may be explained by salient cultural tasks and goals (ibid.).

2.4.3 The notion of context

Defining potential transcultural aspects of humour, the necessity of the theoretical involvement of notion context emerges. As already highlighted above (see Chapters 2.1; 2.3; 2.4) the theoretical understanding of the context is important while discussing humour and its application and functions and functioning in ICC and ICT settings.

Discourses on humour in context are discussing the relationship between humour and the context in which it emerges. “Context is that which environs the object of our interest and helps by its relevance to explain it” (Scharfenstein, 1989, p. 1). Akman & Bazzanella highlighted, ”there are so many different ways of using the term ‘context’ (in philosophy, linguistics, psychology, theory of communication, problem solving, cognitive science, artificial intelligence) that it would be better to speak of a ‘family-resemblance’ concept” (Penco, 1999 cited in Akman & Bazzanella, 2003, pp. 323-324). The term context, (Latin contextus, from con- “together” and texere “to weave”) has according to the Oxford English Dictionary (Context, 2013) two primary meanings: (1) the words around a word, phrase, statement, etc. often used to help explain (fix) the meaning32 ; (2) the general conditions (circumstances) in which an event, action, etc. takes place (Akman, 2000) and in terms of which it can be fully understood. Consequently, Akman noted “context is also a crucial factor in communication” (p. 745).

Bateson focused on the relationships between things and the importance of context. He claims that we live in a world which is only made of relationships and

Without context, words and actions have no meaning at all. This is true not only of human communication in words but also of all communication whatsoever, of all mental process, of all mind, including that which tells the sea anemone how to grow and the amoeba what he should do next. (Bateson, 1979, p. 15)

Moreover, his theory of learning based on system theory and cybernetic, considers that learning happens trough context. The theory suggests that one person could react on the same stimulus differently in different contexts – what Bateson (1972) called “context markers” (p. 293). That is to say, Bateson viewed learning as a contextual process, and contexts determine whether behaviour is appropriate or not (Marc & Picard, 2000). The phenomenon humour is universal33 (Nevo, Nevo & Yin, 2001; Kruger, 1996), but context factors like culture determine the appropriate timing and type and its generation and appreciation (e.g. Nevo, Nevo & Yin, 2001; Chen & Martin, 2007).

Referring to the contexts´ importance within communication it is inevitable to consider its role in the process of relationship and interaction framing34, which is important in humour communication also Dewulf, Gray, Putman, Lewicki, Aarts, Bouwen and Woerkum (2005) stated, “(r)elationship framing is dynamic, social, reflexive, and contextual“ (p. 14). In relation to interaction framing, the interaction frames

(…) are fluid and reflexively linked to messages, they are related to a larger social context through which interactions become patterned, codified through practices, and embedded in communication modes and context markers (Bateson, 1972). The communicative patterns that constitute teasing and sarcasm, for example, are nested within a social context as well as adapted through the specific interpersonal dynamics of the communicators. Thus, it takes more than one person to alter a frame; both parties must engage in changing the meaning of a transaction (Bodtker & Jameson, 1997). (Dewulf et al., 2005, p. 15)

Both, the relationship and interaction frame have to be considered in humour communication in general and in research on transcultural humour in particular.

Context is influencing ones social systems (like families, organizations etc.) and thereby communication and interaction. For example, culture (context)35 influences family models that structures roles and functions, relates the members to each other in a certain hierarchal structure and regulates the relationships between men and women, parents, children and siblings (Marc & Picard, 2000). And vice versa, contexts shape every culture (Hegemann & Oestereich, 2009).

But as Reimann (2010) highlighted, of crucial importance is the understanding and awareness of context in humour generation, perception, interpretation and reaction. In intercultural humour communication this awareness of context refers to audience (receiver of humorous message), and sensitivity according to cultural and personal taboos, values and perspectives. As well a basic sense of appropriateness is requested. Moreover, the intent of humour is crucial, as its interpretation determines its reception. In other words, in intercultural communication the careful consideration of time, place and occasion conventions is essential.

To successfully understand and enjoy humour across cultures, the humour creator must not only be aware of social conventions, but as well adapt to communication, select content, sense the opportunity and create a good punch line carefully. Despite that, Reimann (2010) found that most humour is dependant on shared knowledge and background of the communicants. In intercultural situations this is usually the missing aspect, and therefore causing most cultural challenges and misunderstandings (ibid.). However, this is the starting point to draw attention to the promising concept of transcultural humour in ICC and ICT. Isn’t it imaginable that context-aware (in refer to culture, situation and clients) coaches and trainers may be capable to create or identify a common (back)ground (context) that efficiently applied humour may refer to? One of the arising questions is, if in ICC and ICT – experienced by coachees and trainees as a new context - may have the capacity to create and make aware of a suitable context towards an efficient transcultural humour.

A brief definition of the research context - ICC and ICT – will be conducted in the following chapter. Subsequently, the present study (see Chapter 3) takes a closer look into the practical application of humour in ICC and ICT settings and the concept of transcultural humour and its potential criteria and functions.

2.4.4 Intercultural Coaching (ICC) and Intercultural Training (ICT) as context

The context of transcultural humour in research is in the present study set as ICC and ICT practice, because “the coaching setting can be understood as context in which the coaching takes place” (Mietusch, 2012, p. 16).

A short definition of coaching given by Rosinski (2003) describes it as “the art of facilitating the unleashing of people’s potential to reach meaningful, important objectives” (p. 4). Rosinski named three different types of professional coaching: (1) personal coaching, (2) executive and corporate coaching and (3) team coaching. Additionally, relationship coaching has to be mentioned. That is to say, coaching targets individuals, couples, groups and teams, depending on the topic and objective of the coaching.

The authors Nazarkiewicz and Krämer (2012) distinguished three perspectives of coaching in intercultural settings: (1) coaching as intercultural learning; (2) coaching in a multicultural context, and (3) transcultural coaching, which is influenced by coaching concern, the target groups or cultures and their impact on content and process that will be further exported in the following:


1 The Riverside Toastmasters Club Ottawa is part of the non-profit organization Toastmasters International, an educational organization that operates clubs worldwide for the purpose of helping members improve communication, public speaking and leadership skills.

2 The same appears within coaching literature: Intercultural coaching is a common term that again focuses cultural differences rather than similarities (Nazawieck & Krämer, 2012). And cross-cultural training literature suggests creating awareness and sensitivity of cultural difference (Kohls & Knight, 1994) without focussing on transcultural aspects that have the potential to overcome cultural barriers in communication and social interaction.

3 Ruch (2007) is giving an extended introduction into humours etymological origin of humour. A historical review is given by Martin (2007b), which both we will neglect in this thesis.

4 “Strategy refers to the broader purpose(s) and the general plan for its implementation. Tactics are the varied techniques that comprise the means for achieving the strategy that usually involves a combination of several tactics.“ (Hill & Fitzgerald, 2002, p. 99)

5 The notion of humour reaction was first introduced by the humour researcher Paul McGhee, who first attributed a communicative meaning to humour (Titze, 1995).

6 The present thesis suggests the distinction between humour and laughter as a humour reaction. Consequently, the phenomenon of laughter will not be discussed here. Moreover, the response on humour will be disregarded, in other words humour expressions or reaction, due to its insignificance regarding the present research objective.

7 See glossary for definitions of distinct types of humour.

8 In the present thesis is not intending to critic the model; it is only introduced to easily illustrate the present researches’ focus, aims and aspects of humour as a communicational phenomenon.

9 This function might be as well understood as social function as it influences atmosphere and environment of interacting people.

10 This function might be as well understood as social function in terms of influencing the discourse of interactions.

11 This function might be as well understood as communicational function as it is to communicate something in a veiled way.

12 This function might be as well understood as communicational function that is to say as a communicational function it has an influence on social interactions and psychological well-being too.

13 This function might be as well understood as communicational function.

14 This function might be as well understood as communicational function.

15 This function might be as well understood as communication function as it is a play with words and language.

16 Word plays might be understood as humorous acts of playing with language.

17 G.J. Hofstede (2007, p. 2) used the term “joke teller“, but as jokes are one kind of humour, here his expression has been replaced by the more general term humour creator.

18 The multinational study "Breaking ground in cross-cultural research on the fear of being laughed at (gelotophobia): involved 73 countries" sourced peers from 73 nations and intended to find out if gelotophobia could be measured and what that might suggest about each country’s sense of humour. (Proyer et al., 2008)

19 There exists an American Association of Applied and Therapeutic Humour (AATH).

20 Martin (2007a) considered this as psychological function but it can be comprehended as humour’s communicational and social function too.

21 To Attardo (1994) this function meets with his developed social function of decommitment (see Chapter 2.3.2).

22 According to Attardo (1994) it is social function of conveying social norms (see Chapter 2.3.2)

23 This function might be considered as social function.

24 “Culture is a background of established perceptions, values, beliefs and attitudes that apply to everyone in this shared culture and influences thinking, feeling and acting. We adopt them both individually and collectively, modify and develop them in dependency to our participation in different contexts.” (Translated into English, Hegemann & Oestereich, 2009, p. 12)

25 Transcultural (Transcultural, 2003-2012): extending through all human cultures; intercultural (Intercultural, 2000): of or relating to, involving, or representing different cultures; multicultural (Multicultural, 1991-2003; 2000): consisting of or relating to or including several cultures; cross-cultural (Cross-cultural, 2000): comparing or dealing with two or more different cultures.

26 The term hybrid describes a thing made by combining two different elements (Hybrid, 2013). According to Lusty (2007) hybridity is a cross between two separate races or cultures. A hybrid is something that is mixed, and hybridity can be understood as a mixture. In post-colonial time the term hybridity became a useful tool in forming a fearful discourse of racial mixing (Carvalheiro, 2010).

27 In his earlier publications Welsch (2004) thought he was the first one who introduced the term transculturality in cultural sciences, but later he recognized that the transcultural was not new since the 1960s.

28 “The concept of transculturality covers global and local, universalistic and particularistic aspects, it transcends the antithetic alternatives of globalization and particularism: Transcultural people consolidate an international and a local side” (Welsch, 1999, Chap. 6).

29 At present there are only various publications on cross-cultural psychology and transcultural psychiatry. A theoretical and practical prospect of transcultural psychology and the disciplines content are given by the Venosta International Studio of Mental Health Milan (Italy). Moreover, transcultural discourses are only developed in the fields of management, nursing and to a certain degree communication.

30 Gert Jan Hofstede is the offspring of the prominent cross-cultural researcher Geert Hofstede,

31 Furthermore, the term transcultural humour is officially only applied by Alexander (2007) and Kerr (n.d.). Kerr is motivational speaker and trainer and focussing on the improvement of work environments by means of humour. In literature the term hybrid humour (e.g. Dunphy & Emig, 2010) appears more frequent.

32 In the act of communication Kotthoff (2002) viewed prosody, wording, mimics and gestures as strategies of contextualization.

33 Universal, lat: universus, combined in one, entire, whole

34 Relating to Bateson’s concept of meta-communication “framing is about exchanging cues that indicate how ongoing interaction should be understood” (Dewulf et al., 2005, p. 4). According to Bateson the ambiguity of how to interpret ongoing interactions creates the need for framing, otherwise it is creating confusion and conflicts (ibid.).

35 Mietusch (2012) distinguished between five different context that need to be taken into account in intercultural coaching: (1) Individual context (systems of thoughts, beliefs, knowledge and behaviour patterns as well as perception and value patterns, economics); (2) social context (inter alia family, fiends, colleagues); (3) societal context (political systems like forms of government, political systems, crisis like economic crisis and coups, as well as economics); (4) Cultural context (dimensions of time orientation, collectivism and individualism, power distance, masculinity and femininity - e.g. according to Hofstede, 1980); and (5) historical context (evolution referring to wars, societal changes, eras etc.)

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Humour across cultures. Research on transcultural humour in intercultural coaching and training settings
European University Viadrina Frankfurt (Oder)  (Faculty of Cultural Studies)
Master Intercultural Communication Studies
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transcultural humor, intercultural coaching, intercultural training, humor across cultures, intercultural humor
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Diplom-Kommunikationspsychologin Alexandra Mietusch (Author), 2013, Humour across cultures. Research on transcultural humour in intercultural coaching and training settings, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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