Reading Lists

What is Memetics?

Memetics, most commonly known in its Dawkinsian form, is a tradition of meme studies that descends from Richard Dawkins' 1976 book The Selfish Gene. Memetics was motivated by the units of selection debate in evolutionary genetics and the philosophy of biology: the ongoing debate about the ontology of natural selection and evolution. The meme concept was originally devised by Dawkins to illustrate his conjecture that genes are the sole unit of selection in natural selection, at a time when the exact concept of the gene was far more contentious than it is today. Memetics takes as its basis an attempt to analogise biological evolution and cultural evolution, beginning as school of thought within the philosophy of biology and aspiring towards the status of science.

Foundational texts

  1. The Selfish Gene (1976) by Richard Dawkins
  2. Metamagical Themas (1985) by Douglas Hofstadter
  3. Consciousness Explained (1993) by Daniel Dennett
  4. The Meme Machine (1998) by Susan Blackmore
  5. The Electric Meme (2002) by Robert Aunger

What Is Memeology?

Memeology developed as a reaction against the overwhelming influence of Dawkinsianism on meme studies, interpreted by both its supporters and critics as downplaying human agency in cultural evolution. Whereas memetics grew out of debates within the natural sciences and the philosophies of mind and biology predating the World Wide Web, memeology was developed by social scientists with a focus on Internet memes as the paradigmatic meme object. Memeology emphasises the human aspect of meme studies, strategically adopting Dawkins' definition of memes and taking memetics as a jumping-off point for a new, more holistic tradition of meme studies.

Foundational Texts

  1. Darwinizing Culture (2000) edited by Robert Aunger
  2. The Selfish Meme: A Critical Reassessment (2002) by Kate Distin
  3. A New Literacies Sampler (2007) edited by Colin Lankshear & Michele Knobel
  4. Memes in Digital Culture: Reconciling With a Conceptual Troublemaker (2013) by Limor Shifman

What is Memeography?

Memeography is best understood as the empirical counterpart to memeology. Where memeography focuses on identifying and analysing phenomena that best correspond to ontologies of memes established within the memetics tradition, memeography takes folk-memetic ontologies (namely, ordinary language uses of "meme" in reference to remixed and reposted digital media) as a jumping-off point in order to study their behaviour. The question of precise ontology is deferred to the findings derived from the study of entities within conveniently selected parameters, if not excluded altogether. In other words, memeography is the scientific study of cybercultural phenomena which are commonly recognised as memes by the typical user. One corollary of such research is the identification of phenomena which may not be recognised by the typical user as a meme but nonetheless behave "like memes" based on other criteria. Memeographers make use of digital methods in order to identify patterns within memeculture.

Seminal Texts

  1. "A Population Memetics Approach to Cultural Evolution in Chaffinch Song: Meme Diversity Within Populations" (1993) by Alejandro Lynch & Allan J. Baker
  2. "Three Challenges for the Survival of Memetics" (2005) by Bruce Edmonds
  3. "Competition among memes in a world with limited attention" (2012) by L. Weng, A. Flammini, A. Vespignani & F. Menczer
  4. "On the Origins of Memes by Means of Fringe Web Communities" (2018) by Zannettou, S., et al.