The "Dark Side" of Humour. An Analysis of Subversive Humour in Workplace Emails
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Although a substantial amount of research has investigated the various functions of humour in a workplace context, electronic means of communication have largely been ignored. This is particularly surprising since electronic communication in the workplace is increasingly gaining significance. This seems to be especially true for email, which in many workplaces is the preferred medium for communicating transactional as well as relational topics. Drawing on a corpus of about 100 emails collected in an academic setting, we explore how humour is used in workplace emails. Our specific focus is on subversive humour, which often functions as a tool to express frustration and dissent, and ultimately to challenge existing power relations. Our analysis illustrates that subversive humour is an excellent means to make fun of established and normative workplace practices by exaggerating and ridiculing them, and to re-define organisational reality by offering alternative interpretations. These functions of subversive humour appear to be particularly useful for those in relatively powerful positions: by employing humour to convey critical and potentially threatening messages in acceptable ways, the senders manage to express their dissent and frustration with the wider organisational system while, at the same time, escaping the scrutiny of the very organisation that they are symbolically challenging.
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