The strategic use of irony and camp in protest movements presents a complex interplay between cultural expression and social action. We examine the deployment of these cultural forms in AIDS activism, proposing a social theory of irony and camp in protest. Through an analysis of 188 interviews from the ACT UP Oral History project, we identify three primary effects of irony and camp: diffusion of tension and critique engagement, solidarity building and recruitment facilitation, and invitation across symbolic boundaries to undermine legitimacy. These outcomes stem from the unique cultural forms of irony and camp, which accentuate the incongruities in protest situations and draw attention to symbolic boundaries between discursive communities. Our findings challenge the predominant focus on frame analysis in the cultural analysis of protests, advocating for a deeper examination of how ideas are communicated within social movements.

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