The Punch Line: Transgression and the Dark Side

  • Barbara Plester


The purpose of this critical chapter is to highlight the ambiguity and complexity of workplace humour by illustrating situations where humour has transgressed workplace (or even societal) boundaries and has become offensive, contentious or even sinister. This chapter contradicts the prevailing positive psychology approaches that tend to represent humour and fun as overwhelmingly positive, light-hearted and pleasurable. Drawing on Freudian theories of transgressive and tendentious humour, coupled with the dark side of superiority humour approaches, this section of the book uses everyday examples of workplace joking displays and performances to illustrate the mockery, ridicule and aggression identifiable in some organizational joking exchanges. Using some extreme empirical examples, organizational elements of power, control, dominance and gendered performances are investigated and the role of humour in perpetuating these dynamics is identified. The chapter emphasizes the potential for offence, outrage and serious ramifications in some forms of humour and examines some real repercussions experienced when humour goes horribly wrong at work.


Mocking Ridicule Carnivalesque Transgression Gender Power Violence Alcohol 


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Barbara Plester
    • 1
  1. 1.Management & International BusinessUniversity of Auckland Business SchoolAucklandNew Zealand

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