Sub-cultural sectarian joking behaviour in Northern Ireland: no laughing matter

G. Brown, F. Worthington

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review


The paper reflects on employees’ use of pragmatic humour to manage ethno-national identity differences in six case study District Councils in Northern Ireland. It draws from empirical data gathered during sixty-five loosely structured interviews (Alvesson and Deetz, 2000) with a cross section of each council’s workforce. Dickson et al (2009) also explored the role of humour in maintaining and enhancing workplace ‘community relations’ in Northern Ireland from a social identity theory perspective, but our study provides a deeper analysis drawing from the rich history of humour research in organisation studies. This literature shows how humour generates and maintains cohesion between groups of employees (Bradney, 1957; Collinson, 1988, 1992), relieves frustrations with formal organisational constraints (Fineman, 2003), and provides an ‘escape route’ when introducing contentious subjects (Gabriel et al, 2000; Grugulis, 2002). Recent debate on the meaning and purpose of workplace badinage has differentiated between functionalist and critical perspectives. Functionalist studies by Barsoux (1996), Smith et al (2000) and others emphasise the benefits of humour for maintaining social order. More recently, critical studies have addressed some of the gaps and weaknesses in functionalist analyses (cf. Collinson, 2002) by: (i) avoiding a preoccupation with highlighting and explaining workplace humour as a way of maintaining social order, (ii) considering agents’ own reasoning for using humour, and, (iii) attending to humour’s role in maintaining and resisting unequal power relations at work. The paper draws from both the functionalist and critical traditions in analysing humour as an invaluable method of managing complexities of working life that demonstrates a resourcefulness and creativity in employees (Noon and Blyton, 1997: p140). Key Terms: Humour, Identity, Community Relations, Northern Ireland.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2010
Event5th Annual Ethnography Symposium - Queen Mary University, London, United Kingdom
Duration: 1 Sept 20103 Sept 2010


Conference5th Annual Ethnography Symposium
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom


  • Workplace Humour
  • Identity
  • Community Relations
  • Northern Ireland


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