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Towards a complex third-way irony: a critical review of the contribution or organisational studies to an understanding of irony as a strategy for living in modern organisations

posted on 29.03.2022, 00:46 by Richard Claydon
As Linda Hutcheon observes, irony always has an “edge”, a wry smile, smirk or sneer that suggests ridicule or foolishness. Yet this edge is but an edge, a cutting blade at the tip of a rich array of insights and prejudices that inform and afflict the term irony. Any commentary on irony is inevitably infused with the contradictions and ambiguities that these insights and prejudices contain. As perhaps might be expected, academic treatments of irony have tended to package these elements into manageable, but one-dimensional, polarities, alternating between the tone and perspective of ironic cynicism, which celebrates or condemns irony as a form of disengagement and distancing, an escape attempt from commitment in a disappointing world, and a romance of irony, in which irony is naïvely celebrated as a self-critical and reflectively engaged intellectual and moral stance. This is not the case with this work. What is being presented is a “third way irony”. Third way irony does not simply occupy the space between enthusiastic zeal and detached cynicism, but recognises and accepts the core tensions of an ironic stance or sensibility, a stance that is both utopian and dystopian in character, comic and tragic, with the potential for one who takes irony seriously to relapse into either unreflective self-assured arrogance or an absolute infinite negativity. The thesis also introduces and supports a “complex view” of irony, treating irony as a multi-faceted and multi-levelled outlook (perspective), rhetoric (performance) or character (personality). In each case, no simple contrast is assumed between “surface” and “deep” meanings (e.g. “what is intended” and “what is achieved”, “what is said” and “what is meant”, or “who one appears to be” and “who one is”) but a more subtle, nuanced, multiple and contradictory perspective, performance or personality. It is further argued that a comprehensive exploration of this complex third-way irony requires an understanding, familiarity and central focus on irony as a strategy for living, as the temper or stance of the “ironist”. The thesis argues, and seeks to illustrate, that organisational studies often neglects this dimension in favour of a focus on irony as a perspective or performance, or a one-dimensional, narrow and restricted view of the “ironist”. In order to build on organisational studies of irony, and move beyond such restrictions or neglect, the thesis takes the form of a series of theoretical interventions in the style commonly adopted by advocates of irony. These different interventions do, however, cluster around a central theme, which is that while organisational theorists have contributed towards an understanding of irony as a perspective, performance or personality, it is necessary and desirable to extend their work in two ways: firstly by introducing broader and deeper analyses of irony from writers on irony from outside organisational studies; and secondly by extending the discussion and understanding of irony as a strategy for living, and the manner in which this requires an integration of discussions of irony as a perspective or performance with considerations of the ironist as a character or temper. Given the complex, shifting and controversial nature of irony, the aim of the thesis is not to close off discussion by providing “the” model of irony but, rather, to be more open ended, encouraging discussion and debate, revealing how leading exponents of irony in organisational studies have addressed the topic, and develop suggestions on how their understanding might be extended or elaborated using the literature on irony from outside organisational studies. In these interventions, key organisational studies scholars considered include Gareth Morgan and Cliff Oswick in discussions of metaphor and the ironic perspective, and Gideon Kunda, Graham Sewell and Peter Fleming in discussions of the ironist.


Table of Contents

1. Introduction : Complex irony as a strategy for living -- 2. A framework of ironic tensions -- 3. The ironic perspective in Morgan's theory of metaphor -- 4. Characters of the ironic mode in Kunda's engineering culture -- 5. The temper of the times : irony and decadance in the work of Peter Fleming -- 6. Beyond Švejkism : socratic irony as a strategy for living -- 7. Conclusion : Beyond a smirk or a sneer.


Bibliography: 214-237 Theoretical thesis.

Awarding Institution

Macquarie University

Degree Type

Thesis PhD


PhD, Macquarie University, Macquarie Graduate School of Management

Department, Centre or School

Macquarie Graduate School of Management

Year of Award


Principal Supervisor

Richard J. Badham


Copyright Richard Claydon 2013. Copyright disclaimer: http://mq.edu.au/library/copyright




1 online resource (xi, 253, 112 pages)

Former Identifiers

mq:52981 http://hdl.handle.net/1959.14/1131555