Tag: memetics

Internetes mémek – (poszt?)memetika

For any Hungarians on this network (or those of you clever enough to read Hungarian)… a translation of Contagion Theory Beyond the Microbe is included in this special issue of Apertúra on (post)memetic theory. There’s an option to read some of the other abstracts in English, which I have copied below…

Link to full issue here: http://uj.apertura.hu/

Tamás Csordás – Nóra Gőbel: Brands in memes. Perception of LEGO and Barbie toy brands through internet memes

Internet memes are fresh and up-to-date elements of the internet culture, and in this respect show many similarities with traditional gossip. Memes are becoming an integral part of the internet folk’s everyday vocabulary and part of consumer culture. They can thus be considered a relevant source of consumer insights, meanings, even in corporate contexts, and can thus be employed in marketing communications. In a netnographic study and content analysis of 541 internet memes related to the Lego and Barbie toy brands we explore and characterize their online user perceptions and the implications thereof for marketing.

Rita Glózer: Meme Theory in the Discourse of New Media Studies 

The adaptation of the sociobiological notion meme in the social sciences provide an intense and more precise explanation of the anonymous, variable contents (texts, pictures, music pieces, and videos modified digitally) spreading in New Media. Considering the investigations in contemporary directions of ethnography and cultural studies, the question arises if the memetic approach offers more or perhaps better research opportunities, and if it is more than a recent scientific metaphor at all. In my study I confront the approaches based on the concepts of Internet folklore and participatory culture, and the meme theory matured by Limor Shifman in media studies. I reveal common features and differences between accents of the three approaches, which enable their combination. Lastly, by using some illustrative examples of memetic videos I demonstrate how these approaches can be combined.

Imre Mátyus: ’Dad what’s a blue screen of death?’ Internet meme images as carriers of collective identity

The technological context of contemporary participatory culture provides a wide range of possibilities for sharing ideas, opinions, and experience with the appropriate audiences in a simple and ecological manner. The appropriation of these possibilities can be observed in groups created and maintained at social networking sites. The research of online (virtual) communities has been a crucial area for social sciences since the 1990s. This article joins in with this research tradition by examining the role of internet meme images in a closed community – namely the international Ubuntu user group of Facebook. I investigate the values of community represented in image-based memes created or shared by the members. What kind of content gets represented, in what format, in what modalities?

Norbert Merkovity: Donald Trump and the attention. Memes as tools for attention-based politics.

Donald Trump is one of today’s most divisive politicians. This study does not argue with this statement, but it is studying how he uses features of memes in his Twitter communication in order to attract, maximize, and direct the attention of followers and journalists. Over the adjectives attached to the person’s name, the used words, and the excessive use of exclamation marks becomes clear that Trump’s Twitter communication actually follows the logic of memes. However, this tactic also sets the focus of analysis to attention-based politics and the phenomena around it (network logic, self-mediatization, popularization and populist political communication). The main finding of the study is that Trump takes advantage of his billionaire-celebrity status, as well as the weaknesses of the American presidential primary system and democratic processes to forge political capital for himself.

Kate M. Miltner: There’s no place for lulz on LOLCats: the role of genre, gender, and group identity in the interpretation and enjoyment of an Internet meme

Internet memes are an increasingly widespread form of vernacular communication. This paper uses LOLCats, one of the most popular and enduring Internet memes, as a case study for exploring some of the social and cultural forces that contribute to memes’ popularity, both individually and as a whole. A qualitative audience study of 36 LOLCat enthusiasts indicates that individual memes can be used by multiple (and vastly different) groups for identity work as well as in–group boundary establishment and policing. This study also shows that as memes travel from subculture to the mainstream, they can be sites of contestation and conflict amongst different stakeholders looking to legitimize their claim to the canonical form.

Róbert Pölcz: Internet memes, viruses, (post-?)memetics – a short introduction with notes on research history 

Richard Dawkins coined the term meme in 1976 as an analogous notion to the gene. He defined it as a unit of information that spreads in culture through copying. He attributed a central function to the meme in the construction of culture and also argued that it has agency, the ability to act with an effect. Representatives of the memetic school have received major criticism due to their mechanistic, reductionist and epidemological approaches to culture, which finally lead to the decline of the approach by the 1st decade of the 21st century. Parallel to this process the meme has acquired a new meaning: currently it refers to pieces of spreading cultural content modified and shared on the Internet. Although researches interpreting this new phenomenon partially inherited the vocabulary and argumentation of memetics, their approach is entirely new as they research internet memes along their characteristics as genre.

Limor Shifman: Defining Internet memes.

The fourth chapter in Limor Shifman’s Memes in Digital Culture addresses the problem of interpreting memes. She introduces a three-dimensional framework, which identifies three separate aspects of cultural content: the content, the form and the stance. The first dimension relates to the content of the text and the thoughts and ideologies referenced by them, while the second dimension represents the physical incarnation of the message, which we can perceive through our senses. The third dimension – introduced here for the first time – is the meta-communicational aspect of the meme, and it relates to the addresser’s relationship to the text, the linguistic codes, the addressees and other potential speakers. Based on these three dimensions Shifman provides a new definition of Internet memes. In order to exemplify how these separate dimensions can become subjects of imitation, Shifman analyses three popular memes, the Leave Britney Alone meme, the Pepper-Spraying Cop meme, and response videos to the It gets better YouTube media campaign.

Bradley E. Wiggins and G. Bret Bowers: Memes as genre: A structurational analysis of the memescape.

A tenable genre development of Internet memes is introduced in three categories to describe memetic transformation: spreadable media, emergent meme, and meme. We argue that memes are remixed, iterated messages which are rapidly spread by members of participatory digital culture for the purpose of continuing a conversation. We understand that memes develop from emergent memes, which we define as altered or remixed spreadable media. We have adapted and modified Jenkins’ term “spreadable media” to refer to original or non-parodied messages. Our analysis benefits from the inclusion of Anthony Giddens’ structuration theory to aid in understanding how memes as artifacts of participatory digital culture are created. Our genre development of memes demonstrates the generative capacity for continued memetic transformation and for participation among members of digital culture. We use structuration to position these dynamic components as the core of a duality of structure for Internet memes.

And here’s the abstract for Beyond the Microbe in Hungarian!

Fertőzéselmélet a mikrobákon túl

Bevezetés: négy megjegyzésA tanulmány négy felvetést mutat, amelyek a kommunikáció virális jellegét a fertőzéselméletek tükrében gondolják újra. Mindegyik felvetés célja, hogy megvizsgálja az emberi és nem emberi közti analógia természetét, az emocionális vektorokból és affektív, fertőző találkozásokból álló „társadalmi forma” tarde-i, monadológiai értelmezésén keresztül. Az első felvetés tárgya az, hogy mi terjed valójában a megfertőzhető közösségi médián keresztül. Bár a félelemérzet a politikailag motivált fertőzések alapvető tényezőjének tűnik, vannak más, figyelmen kívül hagyott affektusok is, mint például a szeretet, amelyek szintén ragadósak. A második felvetésben a tanulmány szembeszáll azzal a determinista gondolkodással, amely szerint mindent, ami terjed, mechanisztikus szemléletű megközelítéssel kell értelmezni. Ez jelenik meg a mikrobák és a mémek analógiájában ugyanúgy, mint a hálózatelmélet azon törekvésében, hogy ágenciával ruházza fel a létrejövő, kollektív társadalmi tudatot. A harmadik felvetés megkérdőjelezi a hálózatok epidemiológiai diagramként való értelmezését, amennyiben a tér csomópontokon és határokon keresztül történő sztenderdizálása kiiktatja a járványokkal együtt járó események és balesetek időbeliségét. Az esszé utolsó lépésben arra a sajátos tarde-i irányvonalra fókuszál, amely a kortárs kapitalista üzleti vállalkozásban nyilvánul meg, és amely – úgy tűnik – azáltal kívánja a fogyasztó hangulatát kihasználni és döntését irányítani, hogy az emberi és a nem emberi affektív fertőzés alapvetően tudattalan neurológiai abszorpciójára épít.


Digital Milgram and the Spreading of Conspiracy Memes…

Students from UEL
Students from UEL take part in a recreation of Milgram’s Manhattan Experiment. Picture by Jeff Ellis, published in Virality: Contagion Theory in the Age of Networks

Social Proof – 1968

Nearly eighty years after Gabriel Tarde’s ruminations about the society of imitation, a research team headed by the social psychologist Stanley Milgram set up an experiment intended to better understand how social influence spreads through the urban crowd. Mirroring to some extent Tarde’s late-nineteenth-century interest in how imitative contagions propagate through social collectives mostly unawares, Milgram’s experiment in 1968 was designed to stimulate the imitative behaviours of individuals as they encountered a crowd. To begin with, an actor was planted on a busy Manhattan street corner and told to look up at a tall building while the researchers observed the actions of unwitting passers-by. A few of the passers-by noticed and looked up too. However, Milgram then increased the number of skyward looking actors to five. The idea was to gauge how this increase in stimulus would influence the decisionmaking processes of the urbanite passers-by and to record how many more of them would subsequently imitate the skyward looking crowd. In the first test, 20 percent of the passers-by looked up, but when five actors appeared on the street corner, the number apparently jumped to 80 percent. From these results, Milgram deduced his theory of social proof; that is, on encountering the crowd, the individual makes a contagious assumption based on the quantity of evidence that there is something worth looking up at. To put it another way, the individual’s imitation of others is largely dependent on his cognitive assessment of the magnitude of social influence.

Learning from Network Conspiracy

IOCOSE’s latest project A Crowded Apocalypse is an interesting variation on Milgram’s manipulations of imitative crowd behaviour. In this work a crowdsourcing platform is used to assemble a crowd in order for it to spread its own conspiracy and then protest against its protagonists and effects. As the artists explain the project:

“The workers, commissioned through a crowdsourcing platform, are given exact instructions on what to do, and are not required to commit to the cause. They are instead rewarded with a small amount of money (from $1 to $3 max.). There is no ‘ethos’ in the action of the net-workers. While reducing themselves to ‘artificial intelligence’ (as Amazon Mechanical Turk defines crowdsourcing) they transform a practice of activism into a mechanical process.”

A Crowded Apocalypse is commissioned by AND Festival and Furtherfield. The Invisible Forces exhibition is on at the Furtherfield Gallery, London until 11 Aug 2012.

Marc Garrett (co-founder of Furtherfield Gallery where the work is currently being shown) asks if it is anticipated that the project will succeed in introducing to the world new conspiracy memes.

“This might be the case, although we should not be too naive in this… The conspiracies we have generated are completely deprived of the political investigation which encourages some (maybe only a few) of the conspiracy theorists out there… The result is a collection of singular, anonymous protests, which slogans and claims, generated through a series of fragmented tasks, barely makes sense. The workers, and the people around them, appear at the same time as victims and beneficiaries, actors and spectators of network technologies… As such, we can imagine their images to become a ‘meme’, as it happened for example to our previous project Game Arthritis or Sokkomb, where the pictures have widely circulated outside of the original context we proposed. They could also become generative of actual protests. We can’t foresee what is going to happen. However, in the context of A Crowded Apocalypse, the people we have involved are not protesters. They are workers.”

It’s interesting to see how these efforts to manipulate crowd contagion are still regarded as memetic. One wonders what neo-Darwinian forces are at work in this wonderful piece of trickery? Even if the meme is rather loosely applied as a way to describe spreading phenomena in general, it is still a rather crude shorthand term for something that is far more deserving of a thoroughgoing expression of social virality. After all, this project seems to be a fascinating addition to contagion theory in the context of crowds and networks. I also find the intentional blurring of the worker/protester role to be intriguing.

Memes aside, it is important to grasp the considerable impact of Milgram’s work on the new network sciences approach to contagion. The popular network contagion models presented by Duncan Watts and Albert-László Barabási e.g. all firmly nod in Milgram’s direction. But social proof is not without its problems too. As I argue in Virality and in a forthcoming chapter with Jussi Parikka, not only has his work greatly influenced current contagion modeling but his ideas figure writ large in the stress given to an individual’s instinctual tendency to herd or cascade, particularly in times of bubble building and subsequent financial crisis but also during the spreading of fashion and fads. In many of these accounts, imitative decisions (rational or irrational) conforming to the social actions of others are assumed to be biologically hardwired into the brain of an individual, enabling a person to make snap judgments to avoid, for example, threats to her physical, emotional, or financial well-being. Notably, even when using online systems like e-mail, it is argued that “the human brain is hardwired with the proclivity to follow the lead of others” (Barton, 2009).

Here I think both Tarde and IOCOSE’s latest project have something far more appealing to say about crowd contagion than memes or social proof, particularly in terms of a social theory in which molar individuals or biologically hardwired gene-memes are not the starting point of analysis, but instead we begin with the vital (and invisible) force of encounter (manipulated or not) occurring in what is assembled (the network or the crowd). Tarde certainly provides an intriguing alternative.

Marc Garrett’s interview with IOCOSE here:


The Furtherfield Gallery here: http://www.furtherfield.org/programmes/exhibition/invisible-forces

April Mara Barton, “Application of Cascade Theory to Online Systems: A Study of Email and Google Cascades,” Minnesota Journal of Law, Science, and Technology 10, no. 2 (2009): 474.

Stanley Milgram, Leonard Bickman, and Lawrence Berkowitz, “Note on the Drawing Power of Crowds of Different Size,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 13, no. 2 (1969): 79–82.

Tony D Sampson and Jussi Parikka, “Learning from Network Dysfunctionality: Accidents, Enterprise and Small Worlds of Infection.” The Blackwell Companion to New Media Dynamics, Hartley, Burgess and Bruns (eds.), Wiley-Blackwell, (forthcoming, 2012).