Memes as reasonably hostile laments: A discourse analysis of political dissent in Oman

Najma Al Zidjaly*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

38 Citations (Scopus)


In this article, I investigate how political dissent is linguistically constructed and mitigated in memes that are circulated nationally on WhatsApp in Oman. I do so by drawing upon insights from relational approaches to face, the theorization of communicative strategies as polysemous and ambiguous, and research pertaining to the Islamic practice of lamenting. The data consist of a representative set of memes collected in the summer and fall of 2015 as part of an ethnographic project on social media and Arab identity. I theorize memes as cultural tools that take the form of ‘reasonably hostile’ lament-narratives, which enable citizens in Oman to engage in democracy while saving face. To create lament-memes that voice dissent while mitigating face-attacks, Omanis draw upon various communicative strategies: They use repetition, code choice, hashtags, and different genres; they juxtapose emojis with text; and they manipulate the production and participation frameworks of texts. Collectively, these strategies, which function via intertextuality, allow the concerns to be aired, but indirectly and playfully. The article demonstrates how political dissent is negotiated and mitigated through memes, the agency of social media users, and the validity of conceptualizing memes as cultural tools.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)573-594
Number of pages22
JournalDiscourse and Society
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Nov 1 2017


  • Memes
  • Oman
  • WhatsApp
  • agency
  • cultural tools
  • face-attacks
  • lament-narratives
  • political dissent
  • reasonable hostility
  • social media

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Communication
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Linguistics and Language


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