Those who’ve heard of Girard’s Mimetic Theory may wonder if it’s the same thing as Memetic Theory based on Dawkin’s work. The two are distinct but related, as Meme and Mimesis come from the same Greek root word for copying. Both theories attempt to explain the enormous diversity in culture, that isn’t explained by genetics. They both agree that imitation is the primary driver of human culture. The major difference is in their focus, with Girard primarily concerned with who is being copied, rather than what. In Memetic Theory (with an “e”), the focus is on what is being copied, with who is being copied being largely ignored.
In the initial interpretation of Memetic Theory, not enough weight was placed on who was doing the copying and where from. Borrowing from Girardian Mimetic Theory, we can more easily explain and predict Meme transmission when we understand whether anyone is modeling their behavior on the host of a Meme. Many celebrities are such effective models that they pass on Memes that otherwise would not propagate as well on their own. Similarly, following only Mimetic Theory (with an “i”) would lead you to ignore the role of the memes themselves in being passed on. Some Memes are so viral they get passed on regardless of what you think of the host. Some memes can be so powerful they convince you to choose their host as a new model. There is no grand unifying theory of Memetics and Mimetics so far, but memes and hosts share a dynamic system – you can’t understand one part in isolation.
Memetic Theory versus Mimetic Theory