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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Do the ends justify the memes? : exploring the relationship between youth, internet memes, and digital citizenship Tulloch, Bonnie Joline


This project explores the relationship between youth, Internet memes, and digital citizenship. Adopting an interdisciplinary orientation that drew on the fields of information, communication, and education research, I investigated the sense-making underlying young people’s engagement with Internet memes. Creating a methodology inspired by aspects of design ethnography, participatory design ethnography, design-based research, and critical design ethnography, I conducted a study with a teacher and twenty-one of his students (aged approximately 15-18 years) at a secondary school in Langley, British Columbia. Through the design of a class unit we ran in three different English classes, we examined the relationship between memetic storytelling and digital citizenship. This process involved having students reflect on their own meme engagement and design final research projects on a meme-related topic of interest. Using a multimodal approach to narrative analysis that drew on the work of Arthur Frank (2012), Alexandra Georgakopoulou (2006, 2019), and Gillian Rose (2016), I analyzed the different materials I collected through the unit workshops (e.g., field notes, photographs, assignments, etc.), as well as the seventeen interviews I conducted (i.e., two teacher interviews and fifteen student interviews). The findings I arrived at showcase the significance of humour to memetic storytelling as an information literacy practice, drawing attention to the role laughter plays in people’s personal negotiation of the values represented through memes. While the students’ observations regarding their meme engagement highlighted the joyful nature of these digital texts and the potential information needs they might meet, their final project designs drew attention to the tensions memes hold, revealing both practical and theoretical insights that can inform literacy and digital citizenship education moving forward.

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