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Accepted Paper:

'We are always joking to stay happy': humour and joking as a way of coping with hierarchy-related stress by global seafarers  
Marie Cornelia Grasmeier (Universtit├Ąt Bremen)

Paper short abstract:

In my presentation, I will discuss ethnographic examples of humour and joking as a practice of seafarers on global merchant ships to cope with the stress experienced due to the strict hierarchical order characterising their workplace organisation.

Paper long abstract:

In my presentation, I will focus on the role of humour and joking among seafarers on global merchant ships as a way of coping with the stress caused by the strict hierarchical order on board. The findings are an outcome of my doctoral research in which I explored processes of occupational boundary-work among seafarers in the global fleet. My data are based on ethnographic fieldwork on a container ship with a multinational crew employed in worldwide trade. The workplace organisation on these ships resembles a quasi-military disciplinary regime which widely parallels the ethnic segmentation of the crew. (White) Europeans hold most of the senior positions while the junior officers and ratings mostly originate from labour supply countries of the global South. Thus, the ship constitutes a postcolonial space where global North-South relations project into the well-defined space at the micro-level of interpersonal relations among crewmembers. This hierarchical order on board significantly contributes to the occupational stress experienced by seafarers. During my fieldwork, the seafarers dealt with this stress by ritualised joking and establishing joking relationships directed at the order of authority. Thereby, the turned the major source of their psychological stress into an object of ridicule. The seafarers themselves interpreted this practice as a coping strategy, stating that they were "always joking to stay happy." By laughing at the system of command and obey, they created a sense of agency within the de-empowering hierarchical order.

Panel Irre05a
Laughing at the system: highlighting absurdity and failure through humour I
  Session 1 Monday 29 March, 2021, -