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What can comedy teach us about political action?

  • Date

    Thu 27 Sep 18

Comedy mask

An Essex philosopher hopes to show how comedy can undermine long-held claims that political actors need virtuous commitments to ideals if they want to transform the world for the better.

Dr Birte Loschenkohl, who has recently joined our School of Philosophy and Art History from the University of Chicago, will show how comedy can help advance a realist perspective within political philosophy.

Funded by the European Commission, her two-year research project The Comedy of Political Philosophy, will explore the relationship between political action and comedy primarily in the works of Aristophanes, Machiavelli and Hegel.

Explaining why comedy, a previously untapped resource in understanding political philosophy, is so important, Dr Loschenkohl said: “There has been a growing interest in recent decades in using tragedy as a mode of reflection amongst political philosophers. Tragic heroes are depicted as better than the average person. They are typically part of the nobility, sometimes even semi-divine, and always virtuous. Despite this, their stories end in catastrophe.

“Comedy gives us average people - farmers, workers, commoners - who are not especially virtuous, smart or good. They never have perfect strategies and yet through their actions things work out and change is made,” she added.

Dr Birte Loschenkohl
"Comedy gives us average people - farmers, workers, commoners - who are not especially virtuous, smart or good, yet through their actions things work out and change is made."
Dr Birte Loschenkohl school of philosophy and art history

Dr Loschenkohl will explore how democratic citizenship is reflected in the comedies of Aristophanes, and look at the characterisation of judgement in the comedies and political writings of Machiavelli. The third part of the study will look at the relationship between the real and the ideal in Hegel’s political philosophy and his reflections on comedy.

She said: “My hope is that the project will expand our understanding of political action, and show that social and political transformation does not necessarily require particularly skilled actors, nor well-defined goals.”

Dr Loschenkohl hopes to enrich the project with relevant theatrical performances and screenings at our Colchester Campus as well as an academic conference.