Best Graduate Paper 2023

The winner of the EISA´s Best Graduate Paper 2023 award is Uygar Başpehlivan for his paper "Cucktales: Race, Sex, and Enjoyment in The Reactionary Memescape".


The abstract of the paper:

This chapter is part of my doctoral thesis: “Meme-ing Global Politics: Capital, Race, and The State” which broadly analyses and navigates the multi-dimensional, open-ended, and complicated politics of internet memes as novel communicative and mediatic phenomena. Very briefly, my research starts from the assumption and the claim that the everyday politics of internet memes in political research so far have largely been analysed from a particularly individualistic perspective, in which memes are mostly read either as singular aesthetic products that convey a particular message, or as supportive players in individual events such as elections and/or social movements such as the Occupy Wall Street movement. I argue that the reading of internet memes should move on from such individualistic readings towards a spatial understanding in which we understand memes as comprising and opening a space of political relation -which I conceptualise as the memescape- through which a variety of political subjects, aesthetic objects, discourses, affects, and technological infrastructures relate, come together, and transform in a site of playful digital interactivity. I argue that this spatial relation has several features that offer particular political possibilities. Firstly, the memescape distributes and circulates discourses and affects through largely “rhizomatic” relations where aesthetic artefacts propagate and mutate in a horizontal, decentralised, and ahierarchical manner and in continuous variation. Secondly, the memescape’s predominant mode of expression and interaction is of play, non-seriousness, and humour where once-stable and reliable signs of truth and meaning become open to creative, subversive, and transgressive intervention. Finally, the memescape produces a site of affective relationality where a multiplicity of political subjects affectively “move” and are “moved” by immediately accessible, enjoyable, and, silly digital products. These spatial features which I argue produces a “smooth space” (Deleuze and Guattari, 2013) of possibility against the “striated (hierarchical and central) space” (ibid, 2013) of the internationalproduces various political relations. My research divides them up into four: resistance, reaction, capture, and excess. The chapter below focuses on the question of reaction and analyses how racist and misogynistic politics of the reactionary memescape emerge through the particular memetic expression of “the cuck”.


The committee comment:

Uygar Başpehlivan critically explores the inherently gendered and racialized images/imaginaries that nowadays prevail and flourish on social media platforms. The politics of internet memes direct our attention to the political spaces that are re-shaped on social media. The author persuasively illustrates how cucktale memes are contributing to a global public space that enhances reactionary sensibilities. Theoretically and empirically excellently developed, the paper critically unpacks the complex relation between race, desire, and masculinity. By ‘looking at the everyday micro-production and circulation of reactionary tendencies and subjectivities’, the author nicely shows how discursive and affective power unfolds online.




About the Best Graduate Paper award

The Best Graduate Paper Award recognizes and supports the contribution of PhD students to the development of the field of International Relations. The paper awarded with this prize must be an original  contribution to existing debates in the field and offer a careful, convincing and rigorous analysis. The recipient will be chosen from the contributions of graduate students to the annual EWIS workshops.