Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Valerie Gunter, Ph.D.

Second Advisor

Robert B. Heasley, Ph.D.

Third Advisor

Alex Heckert, Ph.D.


Humor is a unique aspect of human behavior. It offers researchers a chance to understand social relationships in the context of a nearly universal experience: the interpersonal connection that occurs as a result of laughter. This is not to say that all humor is positive. As a distinctly human dynamic, humor mirrors the social realities of dominance, oppression, and difference, as well as the social realities of connection, joy, and intimacy. Understanding humor has powerful ramifications for contemporary workplaces. It facilitates effective communication, eases workplace stress, and is generally considered a sign of positive leadership and organizational health. Humor can also reinforce negative power dynamics and lead to hostility, resentment, and charges of harassment or discrimination. Most research into humor in organizations adopts a highly functionalist approach, and accounts for effective or ineffective uses of humor in the workplace. This study, in contrast, is more contextual and attempts to describe the circumstances under which humor occurs. The author uses an ethnographic research approach to describe and understand various occasions and experiences of humor as they occur within select nonprofit human service settings. This ethnography gives rise to a grounded theory that attempts to account for context as an important aspect of workplace humor.