Meme War Workshop

Coventry, UK, 11.-12. February 2019

Open Intelligence Lab @ Centre for Interdisciplinary Methodologies

University of Warwick, UK
11th-12th of February

At the fringes of an increasingly hegemonic platform economy, there exists another anarchic web of anonymous and pseudonymous forums that plays host to subcultures whose mantra that "the internet is serious business” harkens back to 90’s cyber-culture when it was said that "online nobody knows you're a dog”. Whilst supposedly devoted to an ironic spirit of play, in recent years forums such as 4chan have become entangled the growing movement of reactionary right culture online.

This workshop considers the emergence of these serious political movements out of this milieu. As memetic antagonisms and other forms of extreme vernacular speech have seemingly become normalized on various social media platforms, our aim is to trace their origins out of what we call “the deep vernacular web” through capturing, analyzing and interpret the changing and ephemeral artifacts of these subcultures. To this end, we focus in particular on a process of what we call "normiefication", whereby these artifacts are translated from the subcultural milieus of 4chan, for example, into the mainstream of the Platformized web of social media.

While the success of a "meme" has traditionally been seen as a function of its diffusion, the data-driven and visual network analysis methods that we will experiment with take it as axiomatic that "there is no transport without translation". As such, this event aims to explore empirically the changing contexts within which the artifacts (and ideas) of reactionary right-wing political subcultures develop and travel as a means by which to hopefully begin to assess their serious political significance.

Based on a pedagogy developed over the course of several graduate new media seminars at the University of Amsterdam, we will introduce participants to tools and techniques developed by researchers affiliated with OILab and the Digital Methods Initiative for studying the deep vernacular web of anonymous and pseudonymous web forums. In the course of the workshop participants will have the opportunity to contribute to some basic original research specifically focussing on 4chan and on Reddit. Together we will look at how online subcultures use in-group slang as well as “ironic” memes as a means by which constitute themselves as issue publics, focussing in particular on how it is that they imagine their antagonists as well as themselves as political collectives.

All welcome, but if you would like to attend, please get in touch to register: