Our findings

Our project focuses on social media interactions and examines how people flag, attribute, and dispute offence caused by problematic humour.  We conducted three case studies which highlight different issues relating to (perceived) offensive humour.

This case study focuses on a network of Twitter interactions stemming from an instance of failed humour that creates mismatched interpretations and conflict among users. The joke in question (i.e. the tweet that triggers the whole debate) is interpreted by some of the users as sexist and this interpretation is debated throughout. The interaction is rich in examples of offence-taking, offence-signalling, as well as debating offensiveness and the very interesting notion of having a “right to be offended”.  It allows us to re-examine the distinction between feeling offended and offence-taking as a social action, which is not always clear-cut, rendering claims of offence (‘I feel offended’) as well as offence attribution (‘you appear offended’) contestable.​​​​


This case study focuses on Jimmy Carr’s ‘holocaust joke’ controversy. We examine the whole life cycle of jokes, from their live performance, to entering the public sphere, to the ensuing negotiation and debate among (offended) audiences. We question the joke-teller’s supposed ‘intention’, while also considering how far the comedian can be held accountable for the offence that a joke can cause. We also discuss how the joker’s public persona can influence the uptake of offensive jokes, including the degree to which they are offered plausible deniability, or how audience reaction can inform public opinion.​​​​​


This case study focuses on a complex instance of escalating interpersonal conflict between reality show contestants, which triggered wider online debates on microaggressions and racial stereotyping. We examine the trajectory from failed banter and unreciprocated joking to microaggression, and from calling-out problematic behaviour, negotiating intentions and accountability, to the public debate on implicit reinforcement of racial stereotypes. We approach these discussions through an Interactional Pragmatics lens, revealing how the attribution of intentions and social actions can influence and be influenced by wider social discourses.



Find out more about project-related publications

Find out more about project-related presentations and talks


Our panels

In July 2023, we hosted the panel 'Only joking': Negotiating offensive humour in interaction at the 18th International Pragmatics Conference in Brussels. Click below to find out more, including the list of contributions. 

In May 2023, we hosted the panel Limits of comedy as part of the Philosophy and Comedy Ideas Festival at the University of Kent. Click below to listen to what our multi-disciplinary panelists had to say.