9 February 2007

UQ Business School academic Dr Bob Westwood believes the TV program Big Brother can tell us something profound about humour at work.

Dr Westwood said the Big Brother Office Olympics episode broadcast last year was funny precisely because it was subversive.

“Most research on humour at work to date has come out of a functionalist framework with, ultimately, the idea of capturing the benefits of humour as a way of improving productivity,” he said.

“But the Office Olympics episode, with its mockery of the ‘boss’ figure, showed humour at work at its most subversive and dangerous."

Dr Westwood has recently co-edited (with Carl Rhodes, University of Technology, Sydney) a book looking at humour in the workplace.

Humour, Work and Organisation is published by Routledge and brings together academics from Australia, New Zealand, England, Ireland, and the US to provide an alternative to the managerialist perspective that Dr Westwood believes continues to drive much of the research.

Contributor Martin Parker examines the interplay of organisational culture and popular culture and provides a long list of satirical books, television shows, and websites all predicated on the stereotype of work as the last place you’d want to be and ‘the boss’ as the evil or incompetent (or both) tyrant who is ruining your life.

And contributors Sam Warren and Stephen Fineman examine the intriguing idea of "prescribed fun" at work and wonder whether making fun of the fun program is really what is fun.

With examinations of gender, humour, and organisations; humour in workplace meetings (you’d be surprised); an in-depth look at TV’s The Simpsons; a chapter entitled "The comedy of ethics"; and a final section examining the organisation of humour (think advertising for a start) the book is a surprise package.

Dr Westwood said it was a scholarly academic book, produced from within the academy, by an established and establishment publishing house.

"It constitutes a location [for his chapter Theory as Joke] within the extant power structures that largely militates against the possibility of subversion and transformation,” he said.

In other words it’s no joke.

Media: For more information contact Cathy Stacey on (07) 3365 6179 or 0434 074 372.