Can we think productively about memes?

A tweet from Biella Coleman, led me to Limor Shifman, Memes in a Digital World: Reconciling with a Conceptual Troublemaker.  I must say that I like the way Shifman thinks, asking how we could sort this [memes] out in a useful way. Instead, that is, haggling over definitions and why memes aren't genes (no, duh).

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Comment by John McCreery on April 8, 2013 at 9:37am

Serendipitously, I have just stumbled upon a management theory called "Appreciative Inquiry"  Found myself wondering if we anthropologists (or academics in general) could put it to good use. 

Comment by John McCreery on April 8, 2013 at 6:55am

Is it an academic meme to fuss about precursors instead of examining proposals in a forward-looking manner, looking for potential in them? Or is it just indicative of disciplines fallen into decline and decay?

Comment by Mott T Greene on April 7, 2013 at 6:14pm

Just an amplifying note if I may? Shifman's Article is interesting, but like a lot of people who work with the idea of meme, he incorrectly attributes it to Dawkins. While Dawkins is clearly the author of a certain concept of "meme" he was preceded in this form of analysis by anthropologists, particularly Kenneth L Pike http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kenneth_Lee_Pike, and the  work Alan Lomax did trying to develop cantometrics,  itself a memic idea http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cantometrics. "Meme" like all important concepts in science,had an existence before it had a settled name,  and this is true whether it is "meme" or "conservation of energy." I agree with John M that Shifman  is right not to fuss about definitions. Precise definition is  what happens to concepts when they die as active subjects of research. A third precursor (to use an old-fashioned term) is Gerald Holton's analysis "Thematic Origins of Scientific Thought" with themata and anti-themata  that ar clearly recurring "memes"  of a specialized sort.  All of this work was done in the 1960s, well before Dawkins.

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