Betwixt the Popular and Academic: The Histories and Origins of Memetics

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Virginia Tech


In this thesis I develop a contemporary history of memetics, or the field dedicated to the study of memes. Those working in the realm of meme theory have been generally concerned with developing either evolutionary or epidemiological approaches to the study of human culture, with memes viewed as discrete units of cultural transmission. At the center of my account is the argument that memetics has been characterized by an atypical pattern of growth, with the meme concept only moving toward greater academic legitimacy after significant development and diffusion in the popular realm. As revealed by my analysis, the history of memetics upends conventional understandings of discipline formation and the popularization of scientific ideas, making it a novel and informative case study in the realm of science and technology studies. Furthermore, this project underscores how the development of fields and disciplines is thoroughly intertwined with a larger social, cultural, and historical milieu.



discipline formation, history, meme, memetics, popularization, origin stories