Cross-cultural analysis of internet memes: An analytical framework

Limor Shifman
The Hebrew University of Jerusalem

In the past few decades, digital media has facilitated new modes of trans-national, trans-linguistic, trans-cultural, and practically trans-anything flows. This new setting leads to a set of fundamental questions: Can we identify emergent global digital cultures that are shared across vast geographical and linguistic regions? And conversely, can we detect uniquely local dimensions of digital cultures? In this talk, I will suggest that the study of internet memes may provide a valuable key for addressing these questions. Widely disputed in academic circles for over three decades, the term “meme” has recently been re-formulated as a mundane phrase referring to a wide spectrum of digital phenomena, encompassing cute kittens and Hillary vs. Bernie ads. Focusing on attributes specific to memes in digital spheres, I shall propose a revised definition of the concept. In the talk’s second part, I will build on this definition to present an analytical framework for cross-cultural (or national) comparative research of memes. This model is comprised of four main dimensions (values, frames, emotions, and communicative stance) and may be used for studying a wide range of user-generated formats. Finally, I will apply this framework to the comparative analysis of several prominent meme genres and discuss some of the challenges (and promises) relating to its quantitative operationalization.

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