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Challenging Communication Research

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Edited By Leah A. Lievrouw

Communication scholarship has not enjoyed the same kind of theoretical cohesion or ontological security as some disciplines. The field’s intellectual «roving eye» and resistance to establishing a single core body of knowledge has inspired serial rounds of soul-searching and existential doubt among communication scholars, on one hand, and celebration and intellectual adventurism, on the other. The theme of the 2013 ICA annual conference thus raised an interesting question: For a field that is perpetually in flux and «decentered», what exactly is, or should be, challenged? How, and by whom?
The chapters in this collection, chosen from among the top papers presented in London, suggest that the challenges themselves are constantly being reinvented, broken down and reorganized. The communication discipline undergoes continuous change rather than following an orderly, stepwise path toward the neat, complete accumulation of knowledge. The chapters challenge familiar approaches, notions or assumptions in communication research and scholarship and reflect on the field’s multifaceted and increasingly open character in an era of shifting social relations, formations and technologies.
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Chapter Six: Beyond the Corporate Lens: The Use of Humor in Activist Communication

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CHAPTER SIX

Beyond THE Corporate Lens

The Use of Humor in Activist Communication

KATHARINA WOLF



Although not a characteristic that is associated commonly with neither professional communication nor activism in mainstream Western culture, this article demonstrates that humor performs a crucial role in activist communication. Based on in-depth periods of participant observation among one of Australia’s most prominent social movements, the West Australian antinuclear movement (WA ANM), I argue that comedy, wit, and hilarity are core components of activist campaigns.

Their communication styles and tools, therefore, set activists apart from their corporate counterparts, among whom humor is not recognized as an element of the strategic communications toolkit. This unfamiliarity and adverse connotations associated with humor in a business context may lead to injudicious misunderstanding or dismissal of activists for seeming unprofessional, amateurish, and attention seeking. Instead, this chapter reveals that humor fulfils a number of vital internal and external functions within the WA ANM network.

Four key themes have emerged from my data: Humorous actions enable activists to create a sense of community by attracting people’s attention and drawing in diverse audiences. Humor can be used as an educational tool, making science-based and often confrontational, or even disturbing, information more interesting, digestible, and memorable. However, humor also performs a crucial role within the movement itself, first by ensuring actions and participation are sustainable over a prolonged period and finally by actively shaping the...

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