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Kevin Pauliks: Infecting the Internet. Memes Between Virality and Practice

lundi 06 sep 2021
Faculté des lettres - Humanités Numériques

Memes have never been more popular than in times of the coronavirus pandemic (see Google Trends for “meme” between 2004 to 2021). Currently, many memes are circulated by users on the Internet to reflect and criticize the crisis. In other words, the pandemic itself went viral. Originally, memes were strongly associated with viruses. For popular biologist Richard Dawkins, who coined the term in 1976 long before social media, memes are viruses that spread from mind to mind, infecting anybody that is not immune against religious ideas, political ideologies or catchy songs. The transfer of the term from evolutionary biology to the Internet raises the following questions: Are Internet memes and memes the same thing? How do memes relate to viruses and viral content? Whether these terms are used or not, the conceptual change of memes from viral infection to digital picture practice is highly underexplored. In my talk, I propose to discuss the transfer of the term in a historical perspective, challenging the assumption that the concept is literally translated to the Internet. This raises the question, when and where the concept of memes did change. As a starting point of investigation, I turn to the forums of Something Awful, 4chan, and Reddit, where Internet culture originates from. 4chan and Reddit still are important platforms for meme production, reception, and circulation, especially in times of COVID-19. In fact, the first meme of the coronavirus (Corona-chan) was created on 4chan and spread on Reddit. Analyzing Corona-chan will give us an idea of how users view memes and reflect on virality, compared to and regardless of the (pseudo)scientific concept of memetics.
Kevin Pauliks is a research associate on the DFG-funded project “Pictorial Picture Critique in Social Media. Explicit and Tacit Theorizing of the Digital Image,” as part of the Priority Programme “The Digital Image.” The project is designed to reconstruct social media practices from an inside perspective of the digital image. Prior to the project, Kevin Pauliks worked for two years in the Department of Sociology at Bergische Universität Wuppertal, Germany. From 2011 to 2016, he studied media studies and sociology at Philipps-Universität Marburg, Germany. His research interests include meme studies, game studies, and practice theory. Currently, he is completing his PhD on “Memes in Advertising.”

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