Kella Brown


This study is a qualitative, exploratory examination of the phenomena of humor in the workplace. The purpose is to derive a better understanding of how real people enact humor in the workplace by examining the humor depicted by and through fictional characters in comic art. The body of work of cartoonist, Scott Adams, was the primary source of data. The study relies on what the imaginary characters of Dilbert find absurd, funny, and ridiculous about an imaginary workplace, the employee-employer relationship, the content of the characters' jobs, or in the social relationships of fictional characters. It involves analyzing specific cultural artifacts, comic strips, as representations of human action. Utilizing qualitative media analytical techniques, the study explores ethnographic materials (comic strips). A random sample from the universe of Dilbert strips was developed and theoretical sampling was used to discern the identities and personality traits of the main characters. Emergent groupings and themes were developed by repeatedly interacting with the data, reflection, extensive note taking and exploring patterns. The research question is answered from within a framework of comic art of the workplace using descriptive language that is informed by theories of humor. The idea of presence in mediated communication is discussed and the significant themes of ridicule and disparagement theory are explicated. Key findings include the assertion that, in some cases comic plausibly serves as a proxy for reality as well as the implication that ridicule but plays a significant but inadequately understood role in social development. The researcher proposes that humor may be understood as mythopoeic language. Recommendations for directions in future research include management and organizational studies of humor and communities of practice, learning and development, sensemaking and organizational culture. Further investigation into the relationship between ridicule and bullying could be fruitful. Qualitative media analysis has the potential to produce enormous gains in knowledge creation.

Library of Congress Subject Headings

Dissertations (EdD) -- Organizational leadership; Humor in the workplace; Comic books, strips, etc. -- Social aspects; Wit and humor -- Social aspects; Dilbert (Fictitious character)

Date of Award


School Affiliation

Graduate School of Education and Psychology



Degree Type


Degree Name


Faculty Advisor

Davis, Kay D.;