Communication Studies, Department of


First Advisor

Damien S. Pfister

Second Advisor

Ronald Lee

Third Advisor

Carly S. Woods

Date of this Version



Jonathan Carter, "Enchanting Memes: Memetic Politics in the Face of Technocratic Control" PhD diss., University of Nebraska - Lincoln, 2016, UNL Digital Commons.


A DISSERTATION Presented to the Faculty of The Graduate College at the University of Nebraska In Partial Fulfillment of Requirements For the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy, Major: Communication Studies, Under the Supervision of Professor Damien S. Pfister. Lincoln, Nebraska: November, 2016

Copyright (c) 2016 Jonathan S. Carter


This dissertation examines emerging trends in networked politics through an analysis of the rhetorical forms and functions of internet memes as a unique response to the increasing force of technocratic rhetorics. Frequently dismissed as mere trivialities of networked discourses, memes have increasingly been mobilized to articulate new positions and structures of feeling around the significant issues of the day. As new iterations of memes are rapidly developed and circulated across networked public spheres, these rhetorical technologies provide new opportunities for amateur participation in the development of symbolic content. Such participation is particularly important as the intensification of control society has enabled technocrats to increasingly govern and narrow the domains of more traditional political rhetorics.

Drawing a synthesis between Bernard Stiegler’s focus on the importance of technics and the rhetorical concepts, methods, and orientations of Kenneth Burke, I argue that digital memes – particularly the image macro – are an exemplar of the rhetorical affordances and constraints that define the politics of subjectification that drive networked publicity. Through the analysis of three controversies where technocratic and memetic rhetoric developed in tension with one another, I argue that through their sophistic politics of play memes promote a multitudinous mode of individuation that makes them particularly apt resources for the uncoiling and resistance of control. Specifically, these amateur dominated technics built meta-narratives that disrupt bureaucratization, remediate terms to destabilize anti-rhetorics, and disrupt national memories through their cosmopolitan tendencies. Combined these features lead to the conclusion that memes themselves to function as a rhetorical critic par excellence in networked rhetorics, fostering a politics of care particularly suited to disrupting the proletarianizing force of technocratic rhetorics.

Advisor: Damien S. Pfister