Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Don't Tease Me, I'm Working: Examining Humor in a Midwestern Organization Using Ethnography of Communication

Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Don't Tease Me, I'm Working: Examining Humor in a Midwestern Organization Using Ethnography of Communication

Article excerpt

Introduction

We use humor to lighten tense moments and to also convey various other messages. Lynch (2002) argues that all humor is communicative activity. As a communicative phenomenon, humor helps people in interpersonal, intercultural, organizational, performative, rhetorical, and small group contexts, but if used with malicious intent, it can hurt people as well. Additionally, humor is a phenomenon that provides tension relief, helps people to integrate socially, and can be used to control people (Miller, 1996; Morreall, 1991). In sum, humor is omnipresent. The psychological construct of humor and its physiological consequent of laughing are a part of humanity.

Because humor is a part of everyday life, it occurs within organizations. Organizational members are diverse individuals who use humor in their everyday jobs. Using humor in the workplace is a common ritual that members share in order to alleviate stress, to improve creative vision, and to bond (Kreps, Herndon, & Arneson, 1993). It is also a way for members to have fun while staying productive. We are interested specifically in humor in organizations and how it forms a particular way of communicating (Hammersley & Atkinson, 1995; Ojha, 2003; Philipsen, 1989; Philipsen & Carbaugh, 1986; Wolcott, 1999). Humor is a communicative phenomenon that members regularly utilize. Moreover, it is a phenomenon that develops over time because members socially construct it. In turn, researchers can examine members' particular humor patterns within a specific organization to see how they conceptualize it. There is a gap between humor research and organizational communication that researchers can fill. Understanding functions of humor (e.g., joking, practical jokes, satire, teasing) and how they form a particular way of communicating can provide valuable insight into what organizations accept and expect from members (Ullian, 1976). One way to examine this form of communication is by using ethnography of communication. Particularly, researchers can use ethnography of communication to focus on ways of speaking. Ethnography of communication requires researchers to delve into their intended ethnographic site by keenly observing and interviewing. As a result, ethnographers discover important aspects of organizational life and what type of communication members' use. Additionally, understanding functions of humor helps researchers explain how those functions are socially constructed and used between members. There are many studies regarding organizational humor in various contexts using different methods (Bradney, 1957; Duncan, 1984, 1985; Duncan & Fesial, 1989; Graf & Hemmasi, 1995; Holmes, 1999; Lundberg, 1969; Martin & Gayle, 1999; McGuffee-Smith & Powell, 1988; Roy, 1960; Seckman & Couch, 1989; Smith, Harrington, & Neck, 2000; Sykes, 1966; Traylor, 1973; Vinton, 1989). Most of these studies concentrate specifically on the existence of humor within organizations, how humor helps them with stress management, and humor as a bonding agent. However, none concentrate specifically to learn how humor forms a particular way of communicating using ethnography of communication.

It is important to understand humor for future reference as situations previously perceived as humorous such as an attempt at humor that goes awry, a joke that attacks one's character, a practical joke that results in physical harm, or sexual humor that really is sexual harassment, can be avoided. Current and future humor studies of any kind can add to the search for a general definition, list of characteristics, and elaboration of the qualities of humor.

Specifically studying humor in organizations contributes to the overall phenomenon of humor. Moreover, studying humor in organizations is a topic that involves with both humor and organizational communication. In order to learn more about this phenomenon, the effects (both positive and negative), and impact on organization structure and culture, we first explain humor. …

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