Symposium on nationalism and irony

Symposium on nationalism and irony

Jump to: Schedule | Introduction | Abstracts | Biographies

In collaboration with Dr Alex Marshall (SHU), we are delighted to offer the opportunity to join in the third annual Symposium on Nationalism on Irony.

Papers to be presented include

  • Discursive (re)production of internet-mediated Chinese national identity – Zhiwei Wang
  • Irony on the edge: the behaviour of far-right deputies in the State Duma of the Russian Empire (1905-1917) – Dr Anastasia Mitrofanova
  • More quixotic than ever: ironic re-ironisation of national iconography in Zoo’s ‘Panya’ (2022) – Dr Laia Darder & Dr Alex Marshall
  • ‘Being both’ Scottish and British: irony among Scots in London

Please click here to register for the symposium on Zoom.


1030-1100: Arrival and Welcome

1100-1230: Panel 1: The Trolls
𐫱 Zhiwei Wang: Discursive (Re)production of Internet-Mediated Chinese National Identity
𐫱 Chris Cannell ‘Being both’ Scottish and British: Irony among Scots in London

1230-1330: Lunch

1330-1500: Panel 2: Regions and Overlaps
𐫱 Dr. Laia Darder and Dr. Alex Marshall: More Quixotic than Ever: Ironic Re-Ironisation of National Iconography in Zoo’s ‘Panya’ (2022)
𐫱 Dr. Anastasia Mitrofanova: Irony on the Edge: The Behaviour of Far-Right Deputies in the State Duma of the Russian Empire (1905-17)

1500-1515: Break

1515-1630: Round Table Discussion


For the third year in a row, participants at the Nationalism and Irony Symposium will attempt to interpret the complex, often insidious interaction between irony and nationalism, both extreme and mainstream. Research into this intersection seems to be gaining traction, helping understand both the more serious aspects of humour and how nationalisms navigate their own absurdities and incongruities.

Less than a decade ago, irony had become almost a staple of reactionary discourse, yet this association seems to have weakened as the far-right have gained, consolidated and at times lost power and influence. Yet also ubiquitous, innocuous forms of nationalism are shaped and processed using irony, proud of a particular style of or deftness with irony, or fought over irony as a battleground.

Previous years’ events considered the use of irony to test the water, and how it “allows room for the possible turning of coats”, but also serves as a way to distinguish the in-group who get the joke from baffled out-groups. We thought about the uses a captive, defanged form of subversion can offer to power, or to stigmatised groups having difficult conversations in public. We thought about how useful an ambiguous level of commitment can be to comfortably navigate directly conflicting beliefs. And we speculated that, if everyone laughs at the same joke for the different reasons, irony can hide ideology in an innocuously transmissible form. The first year we ended by asking how Boris Johnson gets away with it, and successfully manages to be his own parody. The second year, we wondered when and how this stopped working.

This year we have, among other themes, Chinese social media, Scottish identity in London, the possibility of an entirely ironic national identity, satires of Spain and tourism in Catalan hip-hop, and provocations by far-right deputies in the pre-Revolution Russian Duma.


Chris Cannell, University of Edinburgh, ‘Being both’ Scottish and British: Irony among Scots in London

Scottish people who live in London present a distinct case for examining irony and its relationship to nationalism. This paper presents ongoing data analysis of fieldwork among this population, where semi-structured interviews raised interesting ironical understandings, and ironic and humorous uses, of national identity and personal cultural repertoire and resources.

Scots in London present a unique, and under-researched, site of inquiry into this topic, due to their liminal, “edge”-case status within the multinational United Kingdom. Irony here is used as both a conscious way of navigating London’s massive multiplicity and assumed ‘Englishness’ and, in what I call the ‘dramatic ironic’ form, a mostly unconscious, and yet sociologically analysable from data, way of separating out the differential, nested, and potentially conflictual, but obviously closely allied, concepts of being both Scottish and British. Further, the ironic approach to national identity, with irony as a fairly fluid concept, and humour as something necessarily frame-breaking, shows that identities, and identifications, are not fixed or consistent, but things that are contingent on audience, and also on moment-to-moment self identifications. A joke for one person may not be meant as a joke for another. And even further, it is the contention of this paper that this ironic content to national identity actual allows Scots in London to navigate the ambiguities of ‘being both’ – joking about Scottishness at one moment and Britishness the next is a way for Scots to finesse the schismogenetic ‘narcissism of small difference’, as well as the weight of long history and vicissitudes of contemporary politics, that exists between these two possible forms of identification.

This paper argues that irony is a fundamental aspect of London Scot’s perception of, and ability to navigate, the multi-nationality of the United Kingdom. This population has an idiosyncratic place in both UK politics and the social processes of the imperial and post-imperial metropole, and their position is rendered into global import by the historical and present cultural force of London, especially as a way of understanding the longue durée and deep archaeology of London’s present multiculturalism, “superdiversity” and modernity. Scottish Londoner’s use of irony, both witting and unwitting, as a way of reinforcing national identity is worthy of examination.

The history and present understanding of Scottishness in the capital has to navigate and react to an ‘Englishness’ that is both umbral and quintessential. ‘Englishness’ is a cultural artefact that is, following McCrone (2002) and Nairn (1981), of mostly unspoken and yet immense power. Scots in London have a liminality to their national identity which makes irony a fundamental tool in promoting that identity in the face of what McCrone calls the “minus-one”, or datum identity, of (white, middle class, and at times, Anglican) Englishness. The unspoken power of Englishness makes it difficult, in certain cases, to wholeheartedly embrace Britishness, which also becomes a site for ironic engagement. This desire to ‘be both’ in the face of assertive Englishness leads to a ‘dramatic ironic’ identification of certain elements of Britishness with those of Scottishness, but also at times an obscurification as to which is which, they being entangled and nested identities.

The sharing of a “sense of humour”, both Scottish and British, is a key aspect, as is the use of subtle jokey cultural signs, mostly, following Fox and Miller-Idriss (2008), in the form of “everyday nationalism” of consumption: Tunnocks cakes, Buckfast, jokingly sacral ideas around haggis and, more seriously, the ‘correct’ drinking of whisky. What makes this context so fascinating is, as Fox (2018) points out, the spatial and political national “edge” at which Scots find themselves – both ‘outside’ the national boundaries of Scotland, but within the capital of their nominal ‘other’ national identity – Britain. However, the variety of responses to questions about what Britishness entails, and whether London is a British city, were laced with irony, both jokingly, and dramatic in the sometime inability to separate out the qualities of Scottish sensibilities and sense of humour from British ones.

In short, the irony used by Scots in London is multifaceted, in that is sometimes a conscious approach to the promotion and use of a national identity in the face of the sheer scale of multicultural modernity in London, and a reaction to datum Englishness, and sometimes as an unconscious, ‘dramatic ironic’ reaction to the same.

Dr. Laia Darder & Dr. Alex Marshall, Sheffield Hallam University, More Quixotic than Ever: Ironic Re-Ironisation of National Iconography in Zoo’s ‘Panya’ (2022)

Valencian hip-hop group Zoo use the 2022 video to ‘Panya’ to criticise the cultural and political dominance of both Spain over Catalan-speaking areas and, with the blessing of nationalist political forces, the tourist industry over Spain. Filmed in various tourist locations, the denunciation is assembled semiotically and linguistically, in a mixture of Valencian Catalan, Spanish, English and English-accented Spanish by the vocalists dressed as Don Quixote and Sancho Panza. This paper will examine the critiques of Spanish nationalism, tourism and capitalism, both explicit in the lyrics and implicit in the video. We will pay particular attention to the ironic use of Don Quixote, a famously satirical figure central to Spain’s literary heritage and national iconography and one of the country’s most recognisable cultural exports, against a backdrop of conflict between Spanish and Catalan national identities. In doing so it will elaborate and attempt to quantify the spiralling multi-layered and self-referential irony, and how the comic appropriation, détournement and anachronistic deployment of Don Quixote reinscribes the self-satire and absurdism often stripped from national symbols. Finally, we will attempt to situate the relationship of the comic figure to straight-faced nationalism both as a site of conflict and tensions between two strategies, the one of denial and expulsion, the other of appropriation and assimilation.

Dr. Anastasia Mitrofanova, Federal Center for Theoretical and Applied Sociology, Russian Academy of Sciences – Irony on the Edge: The Behaviour of Far-Right Deputies in the State Duma of the Russian Empire (1905-17)

This presentation examines the tactics employed by far-right deputies in the State Duma, specifically focusing on figures such as Vladimir Purishkevich, Nikolai Markov the Second, Sergei Kelepovskii, and Pavolakii Krushevan. Their behavior was marked by scandalous and extravagant actions.  These deputies often resorted to rough humor and offensive irony in their public speeches, particularly when discussing topics related to Jews and socialists. Additionally, they engaged in epatage behavior, with Markov even adopting the external image of Peter the Great. Some of their satirical gestures were on the edge, such as Purishkevich once arriving at the Duma with a red flower in his trousers.

The far-right deputies did not shy away from intertwining irony with violence, as seen in the case of mockery duels, like the ironic duel between Markov and a Jewish deputy, Osip Pergament. Some authors note instances where the far-right deputies intentionally voted alongside socialists to support revolutionary resolutions that contradicted their own viewpoints. One plausible reason behind this behavior is that they were a minority in the left-liberal Duma and felt compelled to employ such strategies to propagate their position. Another perspective suggests that these far-right monarchists fundamentally opposed parliamentary practices and used their participation in the parliament to underscore its superfluity.

Zhiwei Wang, University of Edinburgh, Being Chinese Online – Discursive (Re)production of Internet-Mediated Chinese National Identity

A further investigation into how Chinese national(ist) discourses are daily (re)shaped online by diverse socio-political actors (especially ordinary users) can contribute to not only deeper understandings of Chinese national sentiments on the Chinese Internet but also richer insights into the socio-technical ecology of the contemporary Chinese digital (and physical) world. I propose an ethnographic methodology, with Sina Weibo (a Twitter-like microblogging site) and bilibili (a YouTube-like video-streaming platform) as ‘fieldsites’. The data collection method is virtual ethnographic observation on everyday national(ist) discussions on both platforms. Critical discourse analysis is employed to analyse data. From November 2021 to December 2022, I conducted 36 weeks’ digital ethnographic observations with 36 sets of fieldnotes. For 36 weeks’ observations, I concentrated much upon textual content created by ordinary users. Based on fieldnotes of the first week’s observations, I found multifarious national(ist) discourses on Sina Weibo and bilibili, targeted both at national ‘Others’ and ‘Us’, both on the historical and real-world dimension, both aligning with and differing from or even conflicting with official discourses, both direct national(ist) expressions and articulations of sentiments in the name of presentation of national(ist) attachments but for other purposes. Second, Sina Weibo and bilibili users have agency in interpreting and deploying concrete national(ist) discourses despite the leading role played by the government and two platforms in deciding on the basic framework of national expressions. Besides, there are also disputes and even quarrels between users in terms of explanations for concrete components of ‘nation-ness’ and (in)direct dissent to officially defined ‘mainstream’ discourses to some extent, though often expressed mundanely, discursively and playfully. Third, the (re)production process of national(ist) discourses on Sina Weibo and bilibili depends upon not only technical affordances and limitations of the two sites but also, to a larger degree, some established socio-political mechanisms and conventions in offline China.


Dr. Laia Darder & Dr. Alex Marshall

Alex Marshall is a Senior Lecturer in German at Sheffield Hallam University. Following an undergraduate degree in French and German at the University of Edinburgh, he completed a doctorate at the University of Oxford on early Political Zionist concepts of nationhood. He has also worked for several years in the TEFL industry. His publications include Theodor Herzl: Comedy and Politics Mix for Zeteo journal and a chapter on the early communist and proto-Zionist Moses Hess for the collection Nationalism before the Nation-State: Literary Constructions of Inclusion, Exclusion, and Self-Definition (1756–1871).

Dr Anastasia Mitrofanova

Anastasia V. Mitrofanova (born 1973) is Leading Research Fellow at the Institute of Sociology of the Federal Center of Theoretical and Applied Sociology of the Russian Academy of Sciences (since 2019); Professor at the Financial University under the Government of Russia. She received her M.A. (1994) and Ph.D. (1998) from the Department of Philosophy of the Moscow State University, and her Dr.habilitat degree from the Diplomatic Academy of the Foreign Affairs Ministry of Russia (2005). Mitrofanova’s research interests include: religious politicisation, fundamentalism, Orthodox Christianity and politics, nationalism in postsoviet states, social movements, late Soviet and postsoviet society, memory politics. Main publications: Politizatsiia ‘pravoslavnogo mira’ (Moskva: Nauka, 2004); The Politicization of Russian Orthodoxy: Actors and Ideas (Stuttgart: Ibidem-Verlag, 2005).

Zhiwei Wang

Zhiwei is a third-year PhD student in Sociology at the School of Social and Political Science, University of Edinburgh. His research interests include nations, nationalism and national identity; digital media and social media; cyberpunk culture; biopower and biopolitics; digital health; social capital; Marxism; neoliberalism; digital labour; agency and structure; surveillance; deviance; East Asia; and China. The topic of his PhD research is discursive (re)production of Internet-mediated Chinese national identity, which assesses how Chinese national identity is discursively (re)generated by socio-political actors (especially ordinary users) on China’s Internet. Zhiwei obtained an MA in Digital Media and Society from the University of Sheffield and a Bachelor of Literature in English (International Trade) from Hefei University of Technology. His publication is ‘How the State Builds Collective Identity through the Mass Media? Reading Media, State and Nation: Political Violence and Collective Identities (in Chinese)’ and ‘Jasper M. Trautsch (ed.), Civic Nationalisms in Global Perspective. Routledge, 2019. viii + 213 pp. £36.99 (ebk), £36.99 (pbk), £120.00 (hbk), DOI: . His PhD project was awarded the 3rd place of the Management & Social Sciences category of the 11th Doctoral Research Awards (DRA) (UK) organised by the Association of British Turkish Academics (ABTA) on 10th September 2022.

Please click here to register for the symposium.