Identification and Analysis of Visual Irony in Political Cartoons of the Algerian Civil War (1992-2002) – Sabrina Toumi

For an enlarged version, click on the poster or download the file:

Abstracts page

Bios page

Questions for feedback:

  1. Can any other attitudes, apart from criticism, be expressed by irony in the cartoon genre?
  2. Is it useful to distinguish between whole-frame and partial-frame ironies?


  • Lauren O'Hagan

    Thanks for sharing your research, Sabrina. I really enjoyed reading your poster. Your preliminary findings sound promising and look like they will make an important contribution to our current understanding of irony in political cartoons and multimodal texts more generally.

    I would be interested to know the actual percentage of political cartoons produced during the Algerian Civil War that you feel depict irony. Did you find irony to be one of the overwhelming features of these cartoons/is that what led you to focus particularly on irony rather than another element of analysis? I also see your point about ambiguity in some images regarding irony. Perhaps one way to help with this might be to embed the analysis strongly in the contextual evidence of the time. So, the example you show is dated 23/01/1992. Was there a particular event that took place on this day or around this time that may have triggered this response? Is it also contingent upon the newspaper’s own stance adopted towards the Algerian Civil War? And, more generally, do you address any differences in irony between images based on each newspaper’s own stance? Sorry for the bombardment of questions! :)

    If you aren’t aware of it already, there is an excellent book by Douglas, Harte and O’Hara on political cartoons within the context of Ireland and the UK (Drawing Conclusions: A Cartoon History of Anglo-Irish Relations, 1798-1998). I think you will find some similar themes there in terms of irony.

  • Andy Buerki

    Dear Sabrina,

    Well done on your poster. My comment on question 1 is that it looks like you have shown that it irony can indeed have those functions. Well done.

  • Sabrina Toumi

    Hi Lauren,
    Many thanks for your insightful feedback and the book you suggested.
    Actually, I am looking at three main rhetorical figures (metaphor, metonymy, and irony). In this poster, I wanted to shed light on irony in isolation and it is based on a small-scale analysis of 100 cartoons only. I have noticed that almost half the cartoons are ironic. So, yes irony is a prominent figure in my data set.

    I have not thought of comparing/contrasting between the newspaper stances because I have noticed a kind of conformity in their stances towards the happenings. All three newspapers are independent and critical of the civil war conflict.

    Thanks for your suggestion about the contextual aspect of the cartoons. It is an important point which I have to scrutinize even more during my analysis of irony.

    All the best

  • Sabrina Toumi

    Dear Andy,

    Thank you so much for your feedback. Yes, it is a revealing finding about the use of irony in this genre. I look forward to seeing what will emerge from the analysis of the large data set.

    All the best

  • Kate Kavanagh

    Hi Sabrina, thanks for your poster – what a fascinating study! I think Lauren’s comments about context of the time are really useful. I had been thinking that it might be interesting to source some public responses to/reflections on the cartoons, as they may reveal some other interpretations that you don’t hold to help flesh out the field of possible attitudes. This would probably be more tricky taking the important historical context into consideration though… I wonder if there is much in the literature about the reception of irony in addition to its transmission?

  • Gerard O'Grady

    Hi Sabrina. I don’t have anything useful to say about your posters as your work is far from what I do. I was wondering though how easy it is to transport the notion of irony from the verbal to the visual mode or in other words from a situation with a lot of shared context to one where the it is more difficult to know what context is shared. And whether or not a concept such as Fairclough’s Members’ Resources might prove useful in making sense of your data.

  • Keighley Perkins

    Hi Sabrina,

    I’m very interested in your exploration of irony. It’s something that I feel may be quite important in my own research. If you haven’t already, I’d recommend reading the following. I found them incredibly useful!

    Milner, R.M. (2013). “Internet Memes, Identity Antagonism, and the Logic of Lulz”, The Fibreculture Journal, 22, p. 62-92.
    Prisk, D. (2017). The Hyperreality of the Alt Right: How Meme Magic Works to Create a Space for Far Right Politics.

  • Lauren O'Hagan

    Thanks for your reply, Sabrina. That was really helpful! Your focus on metaphor, metonymy and irony sounds fascinating and I look forward to reading your work at some point in the future :) That’s also interesting that the newspapers tend to have similar stances in their response to the War. Again, if you are able to get your hands on the book I mentioned above about Anglo-Irish cartoons, the authors talk a lot about context and embedding cartoons in political events. There is a copy at ASSL so you should be able to access it once the library reopens.

  • Sabrina Toumi

    Hello Kate,

    Many thanks for your feedback and suggestion.

    I cannot undertake an audience response study on irony as the happenings depicted in the cartoons happened almost 30 years ago. This kind of research would be much easier if the events were recent. You have actually drawn my attention to an important aspect. Thanks so much for that. What I will do, instead, is to read some literature on the reception of irony. I have found a couple of publications on this subject matter. The other source which will enlighten me is the interviews which I intend to conduct with the cartoonists.

    All the best

  • Sabrina Toumi

    Many thanks, Lauren.I will definitely read the book as soon as it becomes available.
    Best wishes

  • Sabrina Toumi

    Hello Keighley,
    Thanks a lot for your recommendation. I will definitely have a look at the articles.
    Wish you best of luck for your project

  • Sabrina Toumi

    Much appreciated, Gerard. That’s an insightful suggestion. I am not familiar with the notion of ‘Members’ Resources’, but I will check whether it is suitable to my work.

    To answer your question, I can say that it is quite hard to identify the shared context in visual and multimodal forms of irony. At the core of these particular types of irony is rather the incongruity between what is depicted in the visual image and, usually, the caption and/or the character comments. So, we have an interplay between the visual and the verbal modes. But, sometimes the mismatch lies within the visual scenario itself without any verbal elements coming into play. This is very revealing about the structural patterns of irony across its diverse forms.
    Best regards

  • Debbie Cabral

    Hi, Sabrina!
    Thank you for your poster. I am sorry I can’t help much with your questions, but I wanted to echo what has been said about the role context plays in political cartoons! Sometimes it was just a sentence in a speech that resulted in that cartoon. Would you have access to newspapers from the time you are studying to help you grasp what led to the cartoon? It would be loads of work, but I think it could be useful for the ones which are not as clear.
    Also, it got me thinking on how genres “age”. If you get a novel from 30 years ago, there would probably be very little that you couldn’t grasp. If you got a prescription, it would probably be the same. But political cartoons don’t “age well”, I guess.
    When I taught the concept of genre back in Brazil I’d make a difference between political cartoons (charges in Portuguese) and those comic strips (tirinhas in Portuguese) and, besides the format of one picture or a sequence of pictures, the biggest difference was related to the topic they approached. Comic strips “age better” because they talk about more general topic like “marriage”, “childhood”, “adulthood”, whereas political cartoons are based on a very specific event from a very specific time.
    Anyways, sorry if I was babbling. I just thought this was a very interesting topic!
    Good luck!

  • Katharine Young

    Hi Sabrina! I hope you’re keeping well :) It’s great to see your poster and read about how your research is progressing – the topic of irony seems super interesting! I was wondering as I was reading about how irony might not only be expressing contempt for the political situations they depict; could they also be purposefully ‘making light’ of what is a very serious situation (often where people’s lives are at stake)? And could this ever be seen as damaging, I wonder? Why do we consume the news in that way? I’d love to find out more about the history of political cartoons and I look forward to reading more of your work!

  • Sabrina Toumi

    Hi Debbie,
    That’s really lovely to read, thank you!
    Yes, I do have copies of the newspapers in which the cartoons were published. I will have to scrutinise them again to make deep sense of the cartoons.
    Yes, you are right! Comics and political cartoons, although both graphic, they are quite divergent genres in terms of form, content, function as well as audience. And cartoons tend to be more context- and culture-bound. Now, you have added this metaphoric idea of age/ageing, which I will add to the list of idiosyncratic features of political cartoons.

    Many thanks and all the best!

  • Sabrina Toumi

    Hi Katharine,
    Thank you for taking the time to look at my poster and asking really insightful questions and comments.
    Yes, that’s right. Actually, there are some views in the literature suggesting that irony has its foundations in serious and highly complex situations and matters. So, yes I think that irony might be aimed at highlighting the seriousness of the socio-political context.
    I am sure my analysis will reveal further unexpected results as to the use of this rhetorical figure. We’ll certainly have a chat at some point and discuss our fascinating works.
    Good luck!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *