The modern Socrates: Jon Stewart as an examplar of coping strategies in ambivalent organisations

Richard Claydon

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference proceeding contributionpeer-review


The paper draws from established theories on late-modern cultures and their organizations being endemically ambivalent (Kondo 1990; Gergen 1991; Giddens 1991; Kunda 1992; Bauman 1993; Casey 1995; Collinson 2003) and argues that irony is a response to these conditions. It contends that the core ambivalences in modern organizations are created by the contradiction between hopes, aspirations and expectations on the one hand and results, achievements and experiences on the other. These take the form of a clash between intellectual and ethical expectations and demands for a certain ‘one best way’ of acting based on rational decision-making and singular commitment and experiences and outcomes of doubt and controversy based on behavioral irrationality and multiple commitments. The challenge of ambivalence is coping with this painful condition, creatively responding to it, and working collaboratively to address it. The ironic stance involves discipline and intelligence in being aware of and handling effective performance in the face of the challenge of ambivalence, illustrating contradictions and absurdities and opening up different perspectives and alternative possibilities of action without risk of retribution. The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart exemplifies a ‘Modern Socrates’ that ironically evaluates ‘one best-way’ solutions while introducing creative, complex and ethical alternatives. Stewart employs ironic humour to uncover contradiction, uniting awareness and control, to tread a tightrope between destructive (treating everything ironically and falling into nihilistic despair (De Man 1996; Brad 2004)) and constructive irony (using irony to develop one belief system by ironicising all others (Woolgar 1983; Hutcheon 1994)). It suggests that such an ‘ironic stance’ is necessary for organizational members to remain creative under strong pressures to align and conform, enabling them to painlessly cope with contradictory and multiple perspectives and skillfully craft creative responses to organizational dilemmas (in, for example, Meyerson 2003; Klein 2004; Courpasson, Clegg et al. 2008).
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationAPROS 2011
Subtitle of host publicationthe 14th Asia-Pacific Researchers in Organization Studies Conference : local organizing / organizations on location : proceedings : stream 3. liminal organizing : daring to imagine and the power of ideas
EditorsCraig Prichard
Place of PublicationAuckland
PublisherAsia-Pacific Researchers in Organization Studies (APROS)
Number of pages14
Publication statusPublished - 2011
EventAsia-Pacific Researchers in Organization Studies Conference (14th : 2011) - Auckland
Duration: 28 Nov 20111 Dec 2011


ConferenceAsia-Pacific Researchers in Organization Studies Conference (14th : 2011)


  • ambivalence
  • irony
  • Socrates
  • Jon Stewart
  • organizational behaviour


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