Making Meaning Out of Meme-making – The Politics of Online Image Circulation (MEMEPOL)

In the age of social media, memes and meme-like images are indicative of logics that underpin the common-sense ways in which world politics is understood. Furthermore, they have become an intrinsic part of strategic communication and propaganda wars. From social media use by the Israeli defense forces to the Russian state’s ban on images satirizing Putin, governments, politicians, activists, and institutions use memes, and their politics are resisted and challenged by memes, that ridicule through humor. Thus, attention must be paid to how memes contribute to the production commonsense understandings of complex global issues by providing a simplified explanation that can be quickly understood by a viewer. Yet, memes have received only minimal attention from scholars of world politics.

Making Meaning Out of Meme-making – the Politics of Online Image Circulation (MEMEPOL) is a transdisciplinary postdoctoral project focusing on the visual world politics of the internet and social media using an innovative art-based collage methodology. It is a systematic study on how global power relations are maintained, reproduced and/or disrupted on everyday level though visual social media use that utilizes humor. Its contribution is a rigorous theorization of the role of memes (and other images) in global politics and methodological innovation that advances the use of creative artistic methods in the study of global politics.

The significance of the project is two-fold. Academically, it will provide further critical insight into how the visual constructs the political. And it will produce new empirically grounded knowledge on the relationship of everyday social media use and the shifting dynamics of global power relations. Socially, it will contribute to visual political literacy and a better awareness of the power of visuality to shape what is taken as common-sense in politics.

Funding: Academy of Finland

Project duration: 20192022

Researcher: Dr. Saara Särmä, saara.sarma at