Humor in organization: from function to resistance

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Westwood, RI & Johnston, A 2013, 'Humor in organization: from function to resistance', Humor, vol. 26, no. 2, pp. 219-247.

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The paper discusses the current state of research and thinking about humor in organizations and the workplace. Perhaps constrained by rationalist assumptions and conceptions of work and organization as domains of the serious, humor in organizations has received relatively little attention in management and organization studies. Such relative neglect notwithstanding, there has been a steady stream of work over the last 50 years, increasing somewhat latterly. The paper reflects, firstly, on this neglect in the face of the pervasiveness and significance of humor in life and in organizations. Next it considers more orthodox, functionalist research on humor in organizations, noting that this is the dominant stream of work. Whilst of value, this work offers a limited and partial perspective: we therefore address alternative, non-functionalist approaches that have emerged latterly, some of which take us towards a more radical view of humor in the workplace as resistance and subversion. This work is a caution against adopting a narrow functionalist view of humor and its appropriation for a managerialist agenda. In this critical evaluation of the literature humor is shown to be heterogeneous, both in its forms and effects and there is a need of better theorization that acknowledges that and which properly contextualizes humor in relation to the specific dynamics and complexities of work and organizations.

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