Memetizing genocides and post-genocide peacebuilding: Ambivalent implications of memes for youth participation and imaginaries in Rwanda

Ataci, T. (2022). Memetizing genocides and post-genocide peacebuilding: Ambivalent implications of memes for youth participation and imaginaries in Rwanda. Information, Communication & Society, 1–22.


Open access: No

Notes: In this article, Ataci describes the process of creating memes with Rwandan youth—seeking to create spaces of reflection and expression around genocides. Indeed, Ataci sees meme-making as a participation and mapping process. Participants of this study found meme-making to be a liberating moment to discuss complex topics (genocides) in ways that felt meaningful to them. Certainly, this article illustrates how meme-making is a powerful way of unveiling imaginaries around peacebuilding and violence.

Abstract: In contexts where young people feel prohibited from reflecting openly on sensitive political issues, they may explore alternative ways to communicate and negotiate their opinions and beliefs. Internet memes are popular digital artifacts that offer a space for such debates. This research focuses on the Internet memes that were created and used as an unconventional method for discussing post-genocide peacebuilding processes among Rwandan youth. These memes were made in storytelling workshops that involved interacting with transmedia projects and creating stories about peacebuilding and reconciliation processes in Rwanda, Guatemala and Cambodia. Within this context, this study approaches memes as participatory tools that allow (1) youth inclusion in post-genocide peacebuilding, often considered an ‘adult topic’ and (2) the mapping out of the social imaginaries of peace by young people in post-genocide societies. The paper analyzes how and why young Rwandans negotiate peacebuilding processes through memes and the ambivalence of utilizing memes for youth participation. The results suggest that meme-making emerged mainly as a response to intergenerational differences in discussing the genocide and peace-related issues. Humor in the memes unveiled differences in the ways of addressing peacebuilding processes. Detachment from other contexts resulted in more sarcastic articulations, whereas proximity led to more positive reflections on how peacebuilding should unfold in post-genocide societies. While meme-making proved to be useful for sparking discussions and manifesting imaginaries of peace, it also showed how certain dominant discourses about peacebuilding processes are embraced and often not contested within memes due to self-censorship.

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