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How do memes simplify complex topics, making them politically legible and emotionally digestible to wide and diverse audiences on an increasingly global scale, using the techno-social affordances of social media platforms? This interdisciplinary collaboration seeks to understand how memes are produced and mobilized to communicate and make digestible complex ideas related to COVID-19 and climate change. The last year has seen a proliferation of memes related to both these important topics, with the two often converging to invite reflection on the relationship between human health and climate change, biodiversity loss and environmental pollutants, among other things (see example images below). Specifically, we will examine the ways that memes are entangled in the daily cultural practices of users of digital platforms and mobile apps, analyzing their content, the contexts in which they are produced, deployed and consumed, and the extent to which memes influence views and result in actions and affect. Often relying on (dark) humor, our analysis of memes will thus provide insight into the ways digital spaces are used to raise awareness, elicit action, and provide occasional solace in the face of collective traumas tied to existential crises. Although we are interested in identifying the positive potential of memes to facilitate the dissemination of complex information and help people to cope with existential issues, we are also interested in exploring the “dark side” of internet memes, including, for example, the ways alt-right communities and conspiracy theorists employ memes to question the “realness” of climate change and COVID-19.

Call for Participation (17-21 January 2022)

How are memes deployed in times of crisis and collective trauma? Which new affective and political imaginaries emerge from COVID-19 and climate change memes? And how can they invite reflection or incite action on these global issues? We invite you to explore these questions and more in a week-long data sprint at the University of Amsterdam, where you will use innovative digital methods techniques to repurpose social media data from Reddit, Instagram, TikTok, and other platforms and produce new insights into the role of memes in communicating complex ideas related to COVID-19 and climate change. During the sprint, there will be various lectures and tutorials on how to use digital methods tools to scrape, analyze, and visualize data from a variety of platforms. Based on this, we offer several unique subprojects for participants to work on in small groups. 

Read more about the call for participation on the project website

The Team 

Eileen Moyer is Professor of Anthropology of Ecology, Health and Climate Change at the Amsterdam Institute for Social Science (AISSR), University of Amsterdam and the Amsterdam Institute for Global Health and Development (AIGHD), Amsterdam, the Netherlands. Moyer’s research is driven by her fascination with understanding the dynamic ways that human societies respond to and are shaped by complex socio-technical problems. She studies the relationship between ecological well-being, health and climate change and her research examines the ways that climate change affects urban life as well as the relationship between climate change, environmental degradation and disease ecology. She has received funding from multiple international sources and has recently wrapped up a large collaborative research project, supported by a 5-year ERC Consolidator Grant, into the ways HIV has contributed to changing norms and practices related to gender, sexuality and public health in Kenya, South Africa and Tanzania.

Andreas Schuck is Associate professor of Political Communication & Journalism at the Amsterdam School of Communication Research (ASCoR) at the University of Amsterdam Department of Communication Science. He is elected Chair of the Political Communication section of the European Communication Research and Education Association (ECREA) and program manager of the international joint-degree Erasmus Mundus MA program in Journalism, Media and Globalisation. As NWO VENI-laureate he studied the (de-) mobilizing role of emotions in political communication and currently he is working on a ZonMw grant studying the role of the media in covering the Covid19 pandemic. His research focuses on framing analysis in political news coverage and the study of media effects on political engagement of citizens, with a particular focus on climate change and environmental communication.

Daniël de Zeeuw is an assistant professor in Digital Media Culture at the Department of Media Studies, University of Amsterdam. He is also an FWO Junior post-doctoral fellow at the Institute for Media Studies, KU Leuven, and is affiliated with the Open Intelligence Lab and the Digital Methods Initiative. His current research and teaching focus on the post-truth media dynamics at the fringes of digital culture, including conspiracy theories, leaking, trolling, and memes.