In Mary Douglas' model of humour, jokes do not have an agenda, but they do allow us to speak about an aspect of social structure that demands attention. Humour is not international in as much as that it can only be perceived by virtue of its correspondence with social experience. For Mary Douglas, humour operates through a subversive effect on a dominant structure of ideas.
I concluded in my MSc dissertation that the effect of comedy upon its participants should perhaps be thought of as akin to ritual – it creates a liminal space where cultural norms are both questioned and reinforced. I left open the question of whether the reinforcement was through catharsis, performative false-compliance that ends in internalisation or simply collective affirmation.
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