Memes as socio-narrative representations

Themes, protagonists, and narratives of the pandemic memes in Italy


  • Elisabetta Risi Università IULM
  • Riccardo Pronzato Università IULM
  • Guido Di Fraia Università IULM

Parole chiave:

memes, social representations, narrative, media, covid-19


During the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, memes appeared as one of the cultural artefacts through which people could represent, and ironize on, the consequences of the spread of the virus. This paper presents the results of a research, based on a content analysis conducted on a sample of 1882 memes, which investigate the main themes and protagonists of the memes and the following collective narratives built and circulated in three different phases of the pandemic, in the Italian socio-cultural context. Drawing on the findings of this exploratory study, we argue that memes are socio-cultural and narrative artifacts that contribute to construct, and in which are inscribed, socio-narrative representations, that individuals employ to make sense of, and build imaginaries and narratives about collective experiences. Specifically, we support that memes, as socio-narrative representations, objectify facts through iconic representations, anchor new events to previously elaborated ideas and expressions, and entail skeleton stories, i.e., narrative programs in which are inscribed normative and ethical elements.

Key actors providing sources for meme repertoires and thus contributing to the construction of socio-narrative representations are broadcast media (news media, cinema, TV programs, etc.), which had a key role during the pandemic, following the social distancing and home confinement restrictions issued by the Italian government. During the hardest moments of the pandemic, memes worked as socio-narrative representations of the new type of everyday life with which individuals had to cope, thereby making familiar something that appeared dangerous and unknown. Memes eliminated the most disturbing and dangerous parts of the virus through narrations that often made fun of the new rules of behaviour and relationship practices, with ordinary objects and guiding characters, such as politicians and stars from the show business realm, that were able to reassure people. Finally, methodological insights regarding the study of memes at the big data & computational methods level are provided.




Come citare

Risi, E., Pronzato, R., & Di Fraia, G. (2022). Memes as socio-narrative representations: Themes, protagonists, and narratives of the pandemic memes in Italy. Mediascapes Journal, 20(2), 26–46. Recuperato da