What is it about?

We explore how changing memes--core units of culture or in this case words and phrases related to what eventually became known as marriage equality--shift over time and support system transformation. Using a variety of sources, we demonstrate the shifting of phrases like marriage equality, gay rights, same sex marriage, and similar terms as activists pushed for the ability of same-sex partners to marry. An historical overview of the events that led to this change in US law in 2015, when marriage equality became the law of the land, helps document what was going on behind the scenes as memes shifted over the period from the 1969 Stonewall Riots in New York, which signaled the beginning of real gay activism, to the idea that marriage involves love and commitment, as well as the rights of partners to commit to each other, acknowledged by the US Supreme Court in 2015.

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Why is it important?

Given the harsh realities of today's world, it appears increasingly likely that we need to move towards systemic transformation. This paper provides understanding of the often-overlooked role that memes (core units of culture like words, phrases, symbols, ideas, and images) play in helping to bring about shifts in narratives--and, ultimately, the shift in mindset that Donella Meadows argued is the most powerful lever of transformation.


We need to better understand the mechanisms behind systemic transformation, one of which is shifting memes. This paper provides and opportunity see how memes shift in action and over time--resulting in an important shift of mind, at least on the part of the US Supreme Court judges in 2015, that accompanied an important societal shift that provides greater equality for all in the US.

Prof. Sandra Waddock
Boston College

Read the Original

This page is a summary of: The Transformational Change Challenge of Memes: The Case of Marriage Equality in the United States, Business & Society, December 2018, SAGE Publications,
DOI: 10.1177/0007650318816440.
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