What is a meme?

  • Claudia Vulliamy

My philosophy paper 'What is a meme?' was published in the University of Bristol's highly selective peer-reviewed journal, the BILT Research Journal. This essay addresses the issue of defining a memes of the kind generally found on the internet. An increasingly popular phenomenon, memes are normally images that spread online and are continuously shared and altered by internet users to form communal running jokes. Layered with irony and intertextuality, they are a unique artistic medium used to convey cultural experiences through both form and content. Similar to the issue of defining art, identifying what makes a meme has become more challenging as memes have become more avant-garde. In an attempt to answer the question ‘What is a meme?’, this essay focuses on the 2018 paper ‘Anonymity of a Murmur’, in which Evnine provides ontological and conceptual definitions of a meme which are built on the idea of ‘memographic practice’. Since there has been little written on the subject, most of my sources have been primary. This includes a range of contemporary meme pages as well as personal research among my peers, from which I have gained insights into the varying ways in which people hold the concept of a meme. In the first half of this essay, I critique Evnine’s definitions and argue that his conceptual definition overgenerates, allowing things to be called memes that should not be. In the second half, I analyse what I view to be the core properties of memes: memographic practice, comedy, public shareability, use of images and/or text, digitality, appropriation, anonymity, ephemerality and stylistic resemblance to other memes. Having discussed which of these should be considered necessary conditions, I will conceptually define a meme such that these necessary conditions form the nucleus of the definition and the other core properties support them in the manner of a cluster concept.

Project Tags


  • U

    University of Bristol

    • B

      Bristol Institute of Learning and Teaching