Reclaiming authentic selves: control, resistive humour and identity work in the office

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Westwood, RI & Johnston, A 2012, 'Reclaiming authentic selves: control, resistive humour and identity work in the office', Organization, vol. 19, no. 6, pp. 787-808.

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This article analyses a study that reveals employees using humour to resist an organization’s normative control attempts via a ‘workplace justice’ program. In an interesting ‘doubling’, the program used excerpts from the television comedy The Office which were intended to provide clear examples of inappropriate workplace behaviour and foster consensual understanding. However, The Office can be read as a parody of the performativity of management, gender and political correctness, a reading that problematizes the organizational purposes and one exploited by employees to construct alternate interpretations. Analysis focuses on a number of intersecting areas centring on identity work and humour. Firstly, resistance to normative control and its presumed intrusions, with resistance manifest in the form of humour. Related to this are employee perceptions that the organization required the mere performance of ‘appropriate behaviour’ in conformance with politically correct, managerially fashionable and legalistically expedient expectations. This raises questions about performance, identity and authenticity. Secondly, identity work takes place within power, but operates through a series of plateaux: actions may act resistively in relation to a managerial/hierarchical plateau whilst at the same time acting to reproduce forms of heteronormative masculinity in a different, gender power plateau. Thirdly, the article examines the role of humour in the complexities of identity work and in relation to different frameworks of power. It further theorizes and illustrates the ambiguities of humour and its double-edged capacity to contribute to the maintenance of the status quo and the performance of power as well as its resistive and subversive potential.