This article explores the relation between humour and control, drawing on participant observation in an organization in which humour was central to daily life. Keys is a leading advertising agency whose staff spent an unusually large amount of time sending humorous e-mails. Examining these e-mails in some depth, we unpack the role of humour in subverting various forms of control, including gender norms and managerial authority. We find the relation between humour, control and subversion to be ambiguous. Building upon current debates in organization studies, we develop the concept of humour based on our observations at Keys. Specifically, we argue that humour is always in excess of both control and subversion, a 'nicely impossible' object that cannot be captured. This article thus contributes to theoretical approaches on organizational humour, conceptualizing the concept of 'newness' through Judith Butler's re-reading of Derridean différance and the Lacanian Real. In addition, we contribute a novel empirical account of the study of e-mail list humour in a contemporary advertising firm.
Kenny, K., & Euchler, G. (2012). ‘Some Good Clean Fun’: Humour, Control and Subversion in an Advertising Agency. Gender Work and Organization, 19(3), 306-323. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1468-0432.2012.00594.x