Comic Intrusions: Humour, Irony and Bullshitting in Organizations and Organization Studies
University of Newcastle (UK)
University of St Andrews School of Management (UK)
University of Wollongong (Australia)
University of Queensland Business School (Australia)
Call for papers
Humour, irony and, more recently, bullshitting are recognised and pervasive features of organizational life. Recently they have become a source of interest for organization theorists. Much of the research on humour in organizations has been functionalist in its orientation but there has been increasing recognition of its implication in the relations of power and identity formation, and hence an interest in its subversive potential. It is apparent that humour, irony and bullshitting are complex and multifaceted phenomena. Their intentions and effects are variegated ranging from: modes of control or disciplining; unruliness and upsetting; the facilitation of solidarity and bonding; and, subversion and resistance. The aim of this session is unpack the complex, multidimensional and embedded nature of humour, irony and bullshitting. Moreover, we aim to celebrate their strange and disturbing nature.
There is a philosophical aspect to humour in that it deals in alternative conceptions and representations of reality and plays with and asks questions of reality and truth. The history of humour, from the Greek theatre, to the court jester, to the stand-up comedian, shows that humour can provide a low risk opportunity to tell truth to power. Humour can challenge the status quo, even though, as some suggest this is permitted by the prevailing power structures. Furthermore, irony can be subversive through challenging and questioning received wisdom and can subtly manipulate established truths. Bullshitting and tall stories can gesture towards alternative truths as well as masking the truth. All these modes of humour are routinely enacted in organizations, yet they tend to be overlooked in organization studies.
In addition to considering these modes of humour and irony in organizations, one of the key elements of the session will be to turn inwards and reflect upon how these forms play themselves out in our own discipline. The outcome may be disturbing if not upsetting for those committed to, what someone once attributed to Alvin Gouldner, a 'world historical over-seriousness' in the academy. The session will facilitate reflection on the poses that we adopt as organizational researchers, and humourless treatments of humour and non-ironic studies of irony will hopefully come under the same scrutiny as institutionalised bullshitting about organizational bullshit amongst consultants and other organizational practitioners.
The session adopts a deliberately broad focus on how humour, irony and bullshitting is constructed, enacted and responded to in organizations, organizational studies and in popular culture. We are interested in receiving both theoretical and empirically-based papers, performances and/or other interventions (videos, poems, limericks, graphics, comics, etc.) which address some or all of the following themes, though whatever you choose to do, we wouldn’t want to stop you having fun. Whatever you do you must make people laugh (or cry). Some ideas to get you thinking are:
- Humour, irony and bullshitting as a resource in an economy of power (resistance/control)
- Humour, irony and bullshitting in self- and organizational-identity construction
- The power of bullshitting and the bullshitting of power
- Causing offence: gallows humour, sick jokes, taste and the appropriate
- The place of 'fun', (political) 'games', 'hoaxes' and 'pranks' in organizations
- Organizational figures of fun: organizational jesters, clowns and other mavericks, and the organizational researcher/teacher as fool, liar or joker
- Tall stories about organizational studies, its actors, its critical pretensions (make sure you anonymize!)
- Humour, malfeasance and unruliness in organizations
- The ironic manager and the ironic researcher as a practice or type
- The limited take up within organizational studies of literary and philosophical concepts of irony
If nothing else, it could be fun.
Mears, Daniel P. (2002): The Ubiquity, Functions, and Contexts of Bullshitting. The Journal of Mundane Behavior, 3 (2): 233-256.
Frankfurt, Harry G. (2005): On Bullshit. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Westwood, R.I. (2004): Comic Relief: Subversion and Catharsis in Organisational Comedic Theatre. Organization Studies, 25 (5): 775-795.
Westwood, R.I. & C. Rhodes (2006): Humour, Work and Organisation. London: Routledge.
About the convenors
Simon Down is a Lecturer in Management at the University of Newcastle. He has written a number or articles in enterprise and organization studies journals and is the author of Narratives of Enterprise: Crafting Entrepreneurial Self-identity (Edward Elgar, 2006).
Karin Garrety is a senior lecturer in the School of Management and Marketing at the University of Wollongong. She has worked and researched in several organizations where irony is rampant, and has published in Human Relations, Organization and Science, Technology and Human Values.
Chris Carter is Professor of Management and Co-Director of Research at University of St Andrews School of Management. His work is primarily concerned with studying the changing nature of professions in society, especially in light of the rise of managerialism.
Bob Westwood is a Reader in the Organization and Communication group of University of Queensland Business School. He has researched and published widely in the areas of cross-cultural and international management, the sociology of work, and aspects of organization theory. He is the co-author of Humour and Organisation (Routledge, forthcoming – with Carl Rhodes).