Original Research

Humour as defence against the anxiety manifesting in diversity experiences

Olga Coetzee, Frans Cilliers
SA Journal of Industrial Psychology | Vol 38, No 2 | a990 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/sajip.v38i2.990 | © 2012 Olga Coetzee, Frans Cilliers | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 31 May 2011 | Published: 19 March 2012

About the author(s)

Olga Coetzee, University of South Africa, South Africa
Frans Cilliers, University of South Africa, South Africa

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Orientation: Using humour in diversity contexts may relieve tension temporarily, but it happens at the expense of someone and indicates a defence against an unconscious anxiety dynamic.

Research purpose: The purpose of this research was to describe the manifestation of humour as a defence mechanism against diversity anxiety.

Motivation for the research: In working with diversity dynamics in South African organisations, consultants and participants often do not take humour seriously, let alone interpret the accompanying dynamic aspects. Working below the surface with humour may elicit much more and typical diversity dynamics worth investigating.

Research design, approach and method: The research design was qualitative and descriptive, using multiple case studies and content analysis.

Main findings: Humour is used as a defence against the anxiety experienced in diversity contexts caused by fear of the unknown within the self and the projection of the fear onto another identity group.

Practical/managerial application: Diversity consultations interpreting humour as defence mechanism can provide added opportunities for exploring dynamics below the surface.

Contribution/value-add: Deeper understanding of the unconscious dynamics of diversity humour could lead to meaningful interventions in organisations.


Systems psychodynamics; object relations; basic assumption functioning; community building


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