Animating irony: the force of irony in online and offline political movements

Farhan Samanani, Susannah Crockford, Daniel M. Knight, Craig Stensrud, Girish Daswani, Marc Tuters, Io Chaviara

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Contemporary politics seems to be saturated with irony. In the context of social movements, this creates a perplexing mix of sincerity and insincerity, in which ambivalence and irreverence are coupled with deep conviction and (sometimes deadly-) serious action. Writing as a multidisciplinary collective, the authors have witnessed irony playing a crucial role in diverse social movements—from Black-LivesMatter activists in Ghana, to post-crash political imaginaries in Greece, to the Boogaloo Bois in the United States. Across these cases, the authors argue that irony becomes an important means of gathering, orienting, and animating political collectives, in two ways: first, within contexts of deep uncertainty or instability, where it can be extremely hard to trace political cause and effect and to know how to act effectively, irony provides a useful interpretative tool. Irony allows actors to position themselves between competing values, and attend to contradictions, enabling them to imagine common cause and possible futures within a radically unsteady world. Second, irony generates intensities in excess of understanding. Irony can generate surpluses of meaning, cultivate spaces of play and freedom from responsibility, and amplify the felt potentiality of ideas through memetic repetition. Such intensities have the capacity to spill over into decisive action. The authors conclude by unpacking the implications of these ironic forces for engaging in politics today.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)191-206
Number of pages16
JournalPublic Culture
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 5 May 2023


  • Activism
  • Online communities
  • Radical right
  • Irony
  • Memes


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