Taylor & Francis Group
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Memecry: tracing the repetition-with-variation of formulas on 4chan/pol/

Version 2 2024-03-08, 06:41
Version 1 2023-05-26, 07:40
posted on 2024-03-08, 06:41 authored by Sal Hagen, Tommaso Venturini

In this article we propose a new theoretical framework to conceptualise Internet memes and to trace their temporal variation on 4chan/pol/. We draw from literature on primary and secondary orality to conceptualise the repetition-with-variation of Internet memes as a form of memecry, which we argue is specifically pertinent to the collectivity of online subcultures. We operationalise its study through formulas: mnemonic phrases that encapsulate important elements of oral cultures, which have arguably regained prominence in ephemeral and fast-paced online environments. While Internet memes have often been studied as single images or words, formulas provide a more complex unit for tracing variation and not only circulation. We offer a quali-quantitative protocol to investigate memecry and visualise the spread and variability of 65 prominent formulas on 4chan/pol/, a far-right space known for its reliance on memes. By discussing several cases, we demonstrate how 4chan’s collective identity indeed features typical of secondary oral cultures, while revealing how the memecry of its formulas is entwined with reactionary sentiments and a subcultural struggle for distinction.


The first author has received a PhD in the Humanities grant from the Dutch Research Council (NWO) under grant number PGW.19.030. The second author works has been supported by the European Union – Horizon 2020 Framework Program under the scheme ‘INFRAIA-01-2018-2019 – Integrating Activities for Advanced Communities’, Grant Agreement n.871042, ‘SoBigData++: European Integrated Infrastructure for Social Mining and Big Data Analytics’ (http://www.sobigdata.eu).