Strategy and humour: somewhere between drama and hope?

Mike Zundel, Robert MacIntosh, David Mackay

    Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review


    This paper is borne out of our empirical observations in the wake of a video-based study of strategy making and implementation in an entrepreneurial firm which yielded a large variety of humorous and often ironic remarks. Such instances ranged from jokes and laughter prompted by particular situations or memories to sarcastic remarks and a variety of teasing behaviours aimed at co-workers and at researchers. A preliminary review of the literature on humour revealed three main theorizations: in terms of a device indicating and stabilizing superiority; as a release function that balances pent up tension; or as a manifestation of incongruity. More specifically, and largely fitting into this categorization, the literature on workplace humour elaborates its organizational functions either as a means of attaining and maintaining group cohesion, contributing to communication and culture, as well as means of establishing or exhibiting leadership, power and control (e.g. Collinson, 2002). There are also various social and psychological functions ascribed to humour, for instance Hatch’s (1997) suggestion that individuals use humour to discursively construct and organize their organizational experiences, for instance when irony is used to deal with contradictions. Humour has thus been recognized as an important managerial tool to achieve outcomes, inducing stress reduction and creativity (e.g. Romero and Cruthirds, 2006); it may help those in power to cement their leading roles, or it may allow those who do not occupy ‘proper places’ (Certeau, 1988) to vent their anger, fuel intrigues or speak out under a veil of double innuendo, irony, sarcasm, or fable-like insinuations (see also Scott, 1985). In addition to functional descriptions of humour in the workplace, we also found a variety of taxonomies of types of humour. These generated typologies either in terms of different kinds of humour (e.g. Duncan et al., 1990) or in terms of different workplace cultures, depending on the types of humour these espouse (e.g. Holmes and Marra, 2002). Another, more recent avenue explores neuroscientific locations of humour in specific brain areas, creating taxonomies of humour in accordance with the topologies of brain regions. Such taxonomies may provide a helpful toolset for the researcher to distinguish varieties of humour, of culture, or of neurological activities as they allow for comparison and the development of classificatory systems, in producing abstract orders such categories also seem to divorce humour from the situational relevance for those making, laughing or suffering from it.
    Original languageEnglish
    Publication statusPublished - 9 Sept 2015
    EventBritish Academy of Management Conference 2015 - Portsmouth, United Kingdom
    Duration: 8 Sept 201510 Sept 2015


    ConferenceBritish Academy of Management Conference 2015
    Abbreviated titleBAM 2015
    Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom
    Other29th Annual Conference British Academy of Management


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