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Visual Memes and Viral Images: Analysis, Discourse, Politics

  • School: School of Art & Design
  • Starting: 2023 / 2024 / 2025
  • Funding: UK student / EU student (non-UK) / International student (non-EU) / Self-funded


The proposed project will explore the role of online memes and viral images in the transglobal socio-political landscape.  Visual memes and viral images—whether still or moving image, and whether drawn or live-action—form a significant aspect of the online experience, particularly with respect to social media.  Images in these bite-size cultural artefacts are usually extracted from their original frame of reference and given new meaning through the addition of text and new context.  Their creators (and, in some cases, their subjects) are usually rendered anonymous, whilst memes and viral images form a canvas onto which new and equally anonymous co-creators can project political, social and/or critical commentary.  Memes and viral images influence online interaction and impact offline behaviour. They have the power to form communities however they can also create discord, political tension and polarisation.

Memes and viral images are powerful tools and they have been frequently used by corporations, news organizations, social movements, politicians, special interest groups as well as non-governmental organizations.  While the immense potential of memes and viral images to exert influence is frequently exploited, it remains an academically under-researched area.  In a volatile time wherein individuals confront questions of about gender, race, class and political allegiance, focused academic investigations into the creation, manipulation, proliferation and reception of memes and viral images will offer significant insight into their online/offline impacts on social and political thought and behaviour. The proposed project builds on the emerging literature in this field by academics such as Limor Shifman, Susan Blackmore, and Daniel C. Dennett.

The successful applicant would be supervised by Dr. Jemma Gilboy, Senior Lecturer in Animation Studies and Dr. Marco Bohr, Associate Professor in Visual Communication. Applicants should note that they will be principally based in the Visual Communication department and that the analysis of images, whether they are photographs, motion picture/gifs (live-action or animated), graphic images, illustrations, performance, or any other form of visual communication, will form the central part of the PhD.

The successful applicant would join one of the country’s leading art and design schools which has been influencing, inspiring and innovating for over 175 years. The school has a vibrant, forward-looking and expanding research community where collaboration and interdisciplinarity are embraced and encouraged. PhD candidates would have access to a number of highly relevant research groups mainly, though not exclusively, based within the Artistic Research Centre and the Design Research Centre. As UNESCO City of Literature, Nottingham is a vibrant and exciting city considered to be one of the leading centres of the Creative Industries in the UK.

How to apply

Applications are accepted all year round. As part of the application process, applicants are asked to produce an original 2,000 word research proposal which outlines their research project. Under clear headings or subheadings, the research proposal needs to contain the following information: provisional title, the topic or area to be investigated, the problem or hypothesis to be tested, the methods and techniques to be used in the research, a provisional timetable for the project indicating anticipated activities, the relationship of the proposed research to the published literature and to current research in the field, an indication of the contribution to knowledge that the thesis is anticipated to make, details of previous work in the proposed field, and a bibliography of sources already consulted or identified as of relevance to your proposal.

For further guidelines and to make an application, visit our how to apply page. For informal enquiries, please contact Dr. Gilboy at

Fees and Funding

Prospective applicants should note that this is a self-funded PhD opportunity. Applicants are very much encouraged to apply for external funding. Find out ways to fund your PhD.

Entry qualifications

Entrants must hold a Bachelor’s and a Master’s Degree in a subject area relevant to the PhD research.

How to apply

Applications for this PhD are accepted all year round.

Please visit our how to apply page for a step-by-step guide and make an application. For informal enquiries, please contact Dr Jemma Gilboy at

Fees and funding

This opportunity is for self-funded PhD students. Applicants are encouraged to apply for external funding and we will support this process if appropriate and when required.

Find out about fees and funding for PhD projects.

Guidance and support

Find out about guidance and support for PhD students.

Still need help?

Dr Jemma Gilboy