Keeping Open by Re-Imagining Laughter and Fear

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

9 Citations (Scopus)


Speaking to the debate on the nature of critique, this article is about the struggle to produce an account when listening to and retelling stories. It begins with the disconcertment over listening to a coherent story that emerges in interviews about the development of performance indicators for Dutch hospital care. The indicators are presented as solutions to the problem of unruliness in the healthcare world. Drawing on Helen Verran's work on generative critique I slow down the ‘problem-solution-found’ plot. Instead of contrasting the apparently coherent stories with the complexities of an ‘underlying’ practice of healthcare, I hold on to my initial disconcertment so that ‘fleetingly subtle’ interruptions become entry points for generative critique. Taking Eduardo Viveiros de Castro's understanding of the relation that fear and laughter have to alterity, I show how fear and laughter permit generative critique within seemingly coherent stories. In the case of indicator development, the interviewees ‘laugh away’ what they consider alter from quality and safety in healthcare: having no control over what is going on, polyglotism instead of a common language, and inaction as opposed to taking one's time. Paying attention to disconcerting interruptions generates sensitivity and questions rather than yet another set of (critical) problem-solution-found answers. How can ridiculed (laughed away) subjectivity be acknowledged as important entry points for including alterity in supervision? And how to position the acknowledgement, not as an antidote, but as a way of rendering the fear of alterity generative? Nurturing sensitivities is crucial for keeping open, which means resisting both the sticky tendency of normalizing accounts and the fallacy of misplaced concreteness. I conclude that keeping open by re-imagining critique resonates with the creativity of collective life in actual times and places. Thereby it offers a promising potential for doing worlds differently.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)897-921
JournalThe Sociological Review
Publication statusPublished - 2015

Cite this