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The Comedy of Political Philosophy. Democratic Citizenship, Political Judgment, and Ideals in Political Practice.

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - Comedy and Politics (The Comedy of Political Philosophy. Democratic Citizenship, Political Judgment, and Ideals in Political Practice.)

Reporting period: 2018-09-01 to 2020-08-31

Comedy has both a long history and an obvious contemporary relevance for both political practices and political thought. For the former, think of the rich history of political protests using comedy, or of contemporary politicians like Boris Johnson whose success is partially derived from employing comedy. In terms of political thought, the interest in and concern with comedy begins as early as Plato. Somehow, in recent decades, political thought has lost interest in comedy, even though comedy continues to play an important role in politics. This poses a problem: by disregarding comedy, political philosophy is suddenly unable to account for a significant part of political life. This research programme was designed to address this gap in our thinking about politics.

The overall objective of this research programme was to demonstrate that comedy reflects the theoretical and methodological commitments of a strand of political philosophy called “political realism”, and to establish comedy’s contribution to political realism by drawing out its transformative potential.

Three specific research objectives were combined to support the overall objective. (a) The first objective developed an account of democratic citizenship informed by comedy by exploring Aristophanes’ comedies and Plato’s political thought. (b) The second objective developed an account of political judgment informed by comedy by analysing Machiavelli’s comedies and political writings in relation to each other. (c) The third objective developed an account of the relation between ideals and practice in politics informed by comedy via the theoretical reflections on comedy by Hegel, Vischer, and Marx.

Each of the specific research objectives corresponds to a central feature of political realism. By developing these objectives through comedy, the researcher showed that there are structural parallels between comedy and political realism. In each of the specific objectives, the transformative potential inherent in comedy was elucidated. In doing so, the researcher used insights derived from this parallel to develop a more nuanced understanding of political realism’s potential to conceptualize social transformation. Thus comedy transpires as the means through which the full potential of realism for political philosophy as a whole can be grasped for the first time. At the same time, the disruptive power of comedy in political life was explored.
Work was conducted via 6 work packages (WP). The project was managed under WP1 which included bi-weekly review meetings of the Fellow and her supervisor. WP2 sought to develop the Fellow’s capacities to enable her to complete the project and make the most of it for developing her career. This included Ancient Greek language training to help her work on WP4, career development meetings with her supervisor, and career coaching to develop specific skills. WP3 was designed to disseminate and communicate the results of the project beyond academia. It included collaboration with a non-profit to bring insights from comedy to bear on their work transforming the way public policy is developed. This WP also included the development of a social media strategy and a popular essay explaining the importance of comedy. A planned series of public film screenings and a conference had to be cancelled due to Covid-19. WP4 turned to Aristophanes and Plato. The Fellow presented her work in this WP at 2 workshops and a conference. She wrote a journal article (in submission) and a chapter (forthcoming). WP5 turned to Machiavelli. The Fellow was scheduled to present her work at a conference and two workshops. A journal article is in preparation for submission. WP6 turned to Hegel, Vischer, and Marx. The Fellow founded a departmental reading group and presented her work in a workshop. Two journal articles are in preparation.

Results of this MSCA will be reported in: (1) a forthcoming journal article on realism, utopianism, and the comic imagination and a forthcoming book chapter on Plato and comedy; (2) a journal article on Machiavelli and Comedy, in preparation for submission; (3) a journal article on Hegel and Vischer on comedy and one on Marx on comedy, both in preparation for submission; (5) in the long term the findings of this project will be expanded into a book; and (4) a popular essay in The Conversation, accessible at
There are not currently any studies available that treat the relation between comedy and political philosophy in a comprehensive manner either systematically or historically. This MSCA has begun to break new ground by exploring the importance of comedy for political philosophy in depth for the first time. The Fellow has successfully introduced new perspectives in the field of poltical philosophy through workshop and conference presentations, informal discussions with colleagues, and by preparing a number of publications. The Fellow is planning to continue to build on the research project to increase the impact of this MSCA going forward.

The main anticipated impact from this MSCA is a diversification within political philosphy itself. Political philosophy has to be able to account not just for politics that appears in a ‘rationalist’ or tragic mode, but also for politics that appears in a comic mode; and this MSCA provides the basis to do just that. As part of the communication activities of this MSCA, the potential use of the three objectives in changing institutions in the public sector to shift towards incorporating civic engagement in policy processes was tested in a collaboration with a non-profit. The importance of this MSCA for thinking about climate change has been explored in a popular essay in The Conversation. These are just examples for where this MSCA’s potential future socio-economic impact lies.