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The term meme was coined by British biologist Richard Dawkins in his 1976 book The Selfish Gene to describe a "unit of culture" (p. 203). Examples given are "tunes, ideas, catch-phrases and the idea of God." These entities might, he said, act independently as "replicators," like genes, thus determining the state of culture entirely by natural selection among themselves. Critics point out that, if taken seriously, this is a highly reductive and fatalistic doctrine, claiming that memes, rather than human beings, control cultural development. But the suggestion is obscure. Many would argue that elements of culture are not independent entities, nor are units the same as replicators.

See also Genetics; Sociobiology


dawkins, richard. the selfish gene. oxford: oxford university press, 1976.

mary midgley