Irony as Discipline: Self-Help and Gender in the Knowledge Economy

Kenny, Kate and Bell, Emma (2014). Irony as Discipline: Self-Help and Gender in the Knowledge Economy. Social Politics, 21(4) pp. 562–584.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1093/sp/jxu012

Abstract

In this article, we explore the role of self-help literature within the knowledge economy. We point to the recent growth of ironic humour within such texts, and examine how this operates to construct gendered and embodied subjectivities that position women according to a masculine gaze. Drawing on empirical data from self-help books for career women published between 1997 and 2007, we analyse the styles of embodiment that these texts promote. We find that career women are encouraged to maintain a stance of constant attention to themselves and their bodily presentations, a position that is in line with wider cultural features of contemporary knowledge economy working. We note that ironic humour is deployed in ways that subtly reinforce existing gender relations within contemporary organizations. Our article contributes to debates on subjectivity within the knowledge economy; while scholars have pointed to an increasing normative emphasis on embodied performances, we provide insights into the mechanisms by which this occurs, with a specific focus upon the growing genre of self-help literature and its recent shift to ironic humour.

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