cheerful apprehensiveness of image macros as a tool for contextualising and defamiliarizing research elements

Memes have the ability function as a form of collective consciousness. Their form ranges from depicting intricate concepts to contemplating personal insights. They offer criticism and sympathy through humour. Because of their relatability, memes can spread throughout communities by being shared, often mutating and adapting to evolving situations.

Their specific situatedness offers valuable context in which academic research can be situated. As academic research is often theoretical, finding ways that provide fresh perspectives is crucial. The approachable construct of memes presents the welcome antidote to academic language, as it's close to students' own interior lives, interests and experiences.

Memes gathered on this page offer potential informal methods for students working with theoretical research questions while providing information on the memes and suggestions on how to apply them. The aim is to offer fresh perspectives that could potentially spark new ideas.

Feel free to let me know about your experience. Suggestions are also welcome: hrnic.a (at)

Ideology at Work
complexities, summarized

Composition: Images from popculture references to screenshots of online comments are used to visualise an ideology, often by reimagining them as covers of classic literarature on the particular subject.

Ideology is a system of ideas and ideals, especially one which forms the basis of economic or political theory and policy. Some of the most common ideologies include democracy, socialism, and capitalism, but they can also be more hybrid or niche. Ideology is thus often enacted in relation to our surroundings.

Consciously or subconsciously, we all peform a specific ideology when we position ourselves in relation to our research subject. What are some of the ideologies that can be found in your research? What are some of the ideologies that you perform in your point of view?

Where else do you recognise this ideology at work? Try to identify this ideology in your surroundings, either in your interactions, through observation, or in the culture that you consume. Make a visual summary.

If it's an ideology formulated in a publication, try to summarise it into an image that can be used as a cover for that publication, such as images above.

Does it function? Does it need change, directness, simplification, or a different nuance? Examine and adjust accordingly.

Cognitive Dissonance
identifying ideological contradictions

Composition: Two ideologically opposed opinions become jarring when juxtaposed in relation to one another. Often the source is the same person offering contradicting opinion.

Cognitive Dissonance refers to the mental conflict that occurs when personal beliefs or assumptions are contradicted by the new information. This uncomfortable feeling sometimes occurs when situations challenge our ideas that we only hold in our mind (i.e. purely theoretical or hypothetical ideas and beliefs). The instinct to this mental discomfort is sometimes to deny or rationalise dissonant elements, in order to hold on to original beliefs instead of changing them.

Is there a contradiction between actions / behaviour and ideas / beliefs to be found in your research subject?

(The image above visualises how contradictions can be identified when made abstract.)

Observe and identify examples of narratives where these contradictions occur, either in your personal interactions, or in the culture that you consume. Think small and make a (visual) summary.

Does it offer new insights into your subject? What types of insights?

Shifting the Perspective
finding the strange in the familiar

Composition: A mundane and familiar subject is described in such way that it becomes strange and unfamiliar. Often depicted as text in relation to image to evoke dissonance between the familiar (image) and strange (description).

Defamiliarisation refers to the literary device whereby language is used in such a way that ordinary and familiar objects are made to look different and strange. This is done in order to gain perspectives and perhaps even undo previously upheld blind spots.

Identify a narrative from your own research and rewrite it with a new perspective. Consider the different elements that form your narrative, and how their meanings can shift in other contexts. Chose a perspective to write from and see what new meanings emerge.

Narrative recontextualisation
mediatising the research elements

Composition: Related to the previous meme, here the fictional narrative is used to recontextualise a situation, thus evoking the feeling of defamiliarisation.

Most research contain narratives. A narrative is a story-telling device that can help the researcher place their data and findings into a coherent story that speaks to the audience's imagination.

What narrative(s) can be found in your research? What genre is your narrative? Think of your research as a story. Who is the main protagonist, who are side characters and who are antagonist(s)?

Switch perspectives and look at the present day situation of your research subject as if it were the past. What are some of the things that we find normal today that could become unusual in the future and what is something that is uncommon today but could become common in the future? Think of different scenarios for your subject's narrative. Chose one to elaborate on.

Postmodern Pyramid Scheme
sources of your sources

Composition: The simple visual evokes a simplified philosophical theory from Baudrillard to Winnicott.

Postmodern experience is constituted by inevitable exposure to “hyperreality”. The truth is fractured into subjective interpretations (see the term: "Speaking my truth") and the reality exists as a copy without the original. The ideas and concepts that we work with are often derivative of other ideas of those that came before.

Do you recognise an example of hyperreal occuring within your research subject? Trace the loop of meaning through visualisation by using the True Self and False Self template.

Alternatively, look at the main sources or the main concepts that you are using in your research. What sources have your sources used in their research? Trace back the sources as far as you can and visualise the trace in the template as the one shown above.

Below is an example of memes derived from the original meme depicting the process ofhyperreal at work.

By tracing the copies found within our research back to the original, we can deepen our understanding of our research subject.

Scale of Ethics
measuring the wants and the needs

Composition: Found news articles of situations are placed next to the call for healthcare, putting that which is initially presented as (often technological) innovation and desire in perspective to what is here presented as a basic human need (healthcare).

While it's possible to problematize any subject through research, it's valuable to understand and have perspective on the relative scale of the problem.

In the memes depicted here, healthcare is presented as a threshold on to which other societal needs are measured (significant subject from the US point of view). The credo "Healthcare pls", when put in front of headlines about other (government) expenses, offer perspective on the value of those other expenses.

Chose a provision or a human right that you want to measure in relation to your own moral and ethical research question. This can be something like healthcare or anything specific that you deem urgent and essential. Place it in the Healthcare Pls template by exchanging the work healthcare for your own question. Next, place a headline related to your research subject next to it. How do they relate to eachother? What is the scale of ethics?

It's important to note that research questions can still be valid even if there are other more important subjects pertaining to our daily lives. The point of this is to become aware of the scale in which you operate.

Extracting the Aesthetics
the function of pure form

Composition: Images depicting aestheticised compositions with strange or surreal characteristic are captioned with the reasoning: for the aesthetics. This seems to imply that some things don't have a purpose other than their form, and should therefore not be reasoned as anything else

While it is valuable to approach a research subject analytically, there are also elements that escape pure reasoning and are simply there to bring visual pleasure. While aesthetics are used, particularly in the creative field, to create meaning beyond theory, sometimes there is also aesthetics for nothing else but pure pleasure

Do you recognise aesthetic elements in your research that you cannot entirely rationalise? Either within your content, your presentation, or an element hiding in plain sight. Do you ever find yourself doing your best to rationalise an element of your research to validate it's position, while it might simply be there for pure visual joy? And is that something that you can hold on to?

Projection vs Reality

Composition: The meme is presented as a conversation between two people, supposedly a mother and a child, whereby the child asks for something they want, often food, only to be reprimanded by the mother that they already have such a thing at home. The final line reveals that the alternative at home is subpar to the thing the child wants. Over time the meme evolved where instead of food, different, often abstract notions were used.

This meme asks a simple question: Where do our wants and expectations encounter limits of reality? Embrace the absurdity of the possible outcomes.

A related concept is Expectation vs Reality meme. In these image macros there is often a conflict between the image presented by the advertisement and the reality.

Kill Your Darlings
what are you killing / what's killing you?

Composition: An illustration in 50s style of a mother and children gleefully waiting for a father, who is presumably coming home tired, to suprise him. Knives are photoshopped in their hands, meaning this suprise will be violent.

Kill your darlings” is a common piece of advice given by experienced writers (or researchers). To kill your darlings means to to get rid of an unnecessary subject, paragraph or other element in your research—elements you may have worked hard to create but that must be removed for the sake of overall coherence of your research.

What are some of your darlings that you feel you might have to leave behind? Can you also pinpoint to what or who is making you get rid of this element of your research?

Likewise, an element of your research might feel like it will be the death of you. It feels unsurmountable or unnecessarily challenging to undertake, yet essential. Pinpoint this conflict in your research