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Portrait Henriette Frees Esholt.

Henriette Frees Esholdt


Portrait Henriette Frees Esholt.

The unifying force of humor: on self-directed ethnic humor and the dedramatization of ethnicity


  • Henriette Frees Esholdt

Summary, in English

Drawing on an ethnographic fieldwork within the hotel and restaurant industry in a multiethnic workplace in Denmark, this paper draws attention to the informal social interaction between first-generation immigrants and native Danish co-workers. Elaborating on life oriented cultural concepts of cultural sociology
based on Erving Goffman, the paper explores immigrants’ use of so-called self-directed ethnic humor, as it spontaneously is played out in everyday work life settings. Playing the role as the stereotypical immigrant (the immigrant as extremely religious, having many children, practicing polygamy etc.) with an ironic distance, immigrants engage in a playful behavior with stigma symbols, they demonstrate ‘role distance’ and detach themselves form exactly those negative ethnic stereotypes that are the focus of ethnic humor. This paper will argue that the self-ironic use of 364 ethnic stereotypes is a strategic and tactical dedramatizing ‘impression management’ that serves to defuse potentially dangerous aspects of the ethnic stereotypes, generate sympathy, influence outsiders toward a more appreciative and tolerant attitude towards immigrants, and open up for other interpretations of immigrants. Furthermore, that the self-ironic use of ethnic stereotypes is a way of building relations and creating intimacy with native Danes.


  • Sociology

Publishing year




Document type

Conference paper: abstract


  • Sociology (excluding Social Work, Social Psychology and Social Anthropology)

Conference name

11th European Sociological Association Conference (ESA)

Conference date

2013-08-28 - 2013-08-31

Conference place

Turin, Italy