Trapped In the Abject: Prison Officers’ Use of Avoidance, Compliance and Retaliation in Response to Ambiguous Humour

Constantine Manolchev, Anna Einarsdottir, Duncan Lewis, Helge Hoel

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The place of humour in organisational interactions has been the subject of long-standing interest. Studies have considered the positive role of humour in increasing social contact and promoting group cohesion, while warning it can be a means for expressing hostility and excluding group members. However, more ambiguous uses of humour remain underexplored and under-theorised. Using a single case study of employee experiences at ‘Hillside’, a high-security prison in the UK, we address this gap. Adopting Julia Kristeva’s ‘theory of the abject’, we conceptualise ‘abject humour’ as a disruptive activity, which is composite, shady and sinister. We show that, despite Hillside’s adoption of Challenge It, Change It as a UK-wide safeguarding policy, the liminal spaces abject humour opens and occupies, are difficult to regulate. Those spaces trap both perpetrators and targets, and necessitate the use of avoidance, compliance, and retaliation strategies by the latter, as ways of coping.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages19
JournalCulture and Organization
Early online date27 Oct 2022
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 27 Oct 2022

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