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Midterm Proposal Guidelines
Submit a proposal that outlines your initial plan for the final project. This proposal
will include a 500-word project description along with an annotated bibliography,
both in one document. Below is information on how to complete the project
This is the proposal for a Research Paper: an analytical paper 2000 words in length
(about 7–9 full pages, double-spaced) that is directly related to concepts in sex,
love, and romance. Papers must include an introduction, conclusion, and
bibliography; along with a thesis statement and evidence throughout that supports
and advances your arguments. You are welcome to use non-academic sources in
addition to the required scholarly sources.
Part I: Project Description
The first part of the proposal is your project description. This should—in at least 500
words and
using language understandable by a classmate—thoroughly address:
1. Your choice of medium: Research Paper or Zine (please choose Research
2. Overview of your chosen topic: You may choose your own topic, but it
MUST address sex, love, and/or romance, specifically—not just gender or
feminism in general. This may be a topic we do not discuss in the course,
but it should still be relevant to major concepts addressed in the course; that
is, course materials should still offer some guidance to your analysis and
For zines: Remember to discuss which prompt, “Redefining Romance” or
“Public Service Announcement,” you have chosen.
3. A tentative thesis statement (main argument): Whether your project is a research
paper or zine, it must present an overall argument to the reader/viewer. This is the
main argument that your evidence, writing, and/or creative work will express and
Part II: Annotated Bibliography
In the same document (but not included in the project description’s 500-word limit)
you will submit an annotated bibliography. Annotated bibliographies share the
citations for sources you are using for your project (as on a works cited or
references page) and explain the importance of each piece for your work. While the
annotations will not be included in your final project later on, they are part of this
proposal stage to help you consider and demonstrate what you intend to do with
your sources. For detailed information on writing annotated bibliographies, please
refer to the resources shared on the course GauchoSpace. Your annotated
bibliography must:
• Have a minimum of 5 scholarly sources:
o At least 3 sources must be sources assigned in class
o At least 2 sources must be outside scholarly sources, not from the course.
o You may also include extra sources beyond the 5 required above; these extra
ones may be non-scholarly sources
Scholarly Sources
You will lose points if you do not include the required number of scholarly sources. The
Project tab on GauchoSpace has links to guides on finding scholarly sources and assessing
whether sources are scholarly. A quick tip is when using UCSB library search, filter search
results to only include “Peer Reviewed” sources. These will be scholarly!
A great place to start are these UCSB Library research guides:
Feminist Studies: https://guides.library.ucsb.edu/feministstudies/articles
LGBTQ Studies: https://guides.library.ucsb.edu/c.php?g=546763&p=3751394
These guides list some databases that are most relevant to our course. You may
also find relevant sources in other databases or by other methods.
Provide annotations for each source that, in 5 sentences or more:
o Summarize the main argument and contributions of the source
o Reflect on how the source is relevant to your topic and can be used to develop or
support your project’s arguments
o Include at least one page citation attached to a paraphrase, quote, statistic, or
other specific information cited from the source
• Correctly and consistently use 1 citation style throughout: APA, Chicago, or MLA.
See the next page for an example of how to format an annotated bibliography.
Example Template for Proposals
Example Template for Proposals
Your Name
Prof. Victorian
TA: ______
Feminist Studies 150
August 12, 2021
Midterm Proposal
Project Description
[This section ALONE should be at least 500 words.]
Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Aenean ut nunc rutrum, convallis urna ut,
consequat nulla. Etiam nec diam vitae ipsum finibus dignissim. Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur
adipiscing elit. Vestibulum facilisis mollis ligula, sit amet feugiat orci tincidunt sed. Proin rhoncus diam
non leo ornare, a ullamcorper erat vehicula. Nullam nec nunc id enim efficitur ultrices. Nullam
condimentum augue sed viverra hendrerit. Donec sed lectus felis. Praesent non mi nulla. Sed in
accumsan turpis, sed aliquam purus. Donec lobortis massa ac tincidunt ultrices.
Aliquam dapibus, ex fringilla dapibus sodales, nunc dolor accumsan orci, quis cursus neque
tellus non nisl. Mauris vehicula orci augue, sodales tincidunt leo varius eget. Nam bibendum quam ac
massa tristique consectetur … and so on …
Annotated Bibliography
1. Hernandez, Jillian. 2009. “‘Miss, You Look Like a Bratz Doll’: On Chonga Girls and SexualAesthetic Excess.” NWSA Journal 21 (January): 63–90.
Pellentesque eget orci elit. Nam nec mollis nulla. Integer eget facilisis libero. Praesent diam magna,
viverra sed porttitor et, mattis ac nisl. Donec nunc turpis, imperdiet eleifend dapibus vitae, euismod at
orci. Aliquam molestie tristique aliquet. Nulla aliquet suscipit fermentum.
2. Coontz, Stephanie. 2004. “The World Historical Transformation of Marriage.” Journal of Marriage
and Family 66: 974-79.
Pellentesque eget orci elit. Nam nec mollis nulla. Integer eget facilisis libero. Praesent diam magna,
viverra sed porttitor et, mattis ac nisl. Donec nunc turpis, imperdiet eleifend dapibus vitae, euismod at
orci. Aliquam molestie tristique aliquet. Nulla aliquet suscipit fermentum.
3. … and so on …
FEMST 150, Summer 2022 Session A, Prof. Victorian
Proposal Guidelines 4
Midterm Proposal Rubric
10 points
10 points
Excellent (A)
Strong (B)
Thoroughly describes
using language accessible
to a classmate
Competently describes
using language that is
accessible to a classmate
Provides minimal detail.
Some accessible
language present
Description is unclear,
difficult to understand, or
not present
Includes helpful overview
that strongly relates topic
to course themes and
project argument
Includes helpful overview
Topic overview is limited
that relates topic to course but does give some
Does not give substantive
overview of the topic, or
topic is not appropriate
Clearly states a welldeveloped thesis or main
Clearly states a relevant
thesis or main argument
States a relevant thesis or
main argument but may
be unclear or hard to find
Lacks a descriptive thesis
or main argument
Fully summarizes and
properly cites 3 class
sources and 2 outside
scholarly sources
Fully summarizes and
properly cites 3 class
sources and 2 outside
scholarly sources
Fully summarizes and
properly cites 3 class
sources and 2 outside
scholarly sources
Does not adequately
summarize or cite 3 class
sources and 2 outside
scholarly sources
Annotations give plenty
detail to make the
summaries and relevance
easy to understand AND
reference specific page
numbers and/or quotes
Annotations support
summaries with some
detail and page citations
AND reference specific
page numbers and/or
Annotations summarize
readings with minimal
detail; some may
reference specific pages
numbers and/or quotes
Annotations lack details of
connection and relevance
to project topic/argument;
Do not reference specific
page numbers and/or
FEMST 150, Summer 2022 Session A, Prof. Victorian
Adequate (C)
Barely/Not Passing (D/F)
Proposal Guidelines 5
( ): L
. 24, N . 2, I
: 04-08-2019 03:46 UTC

, 1998),
. 281-288
U ,
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In imac : A Special I
en Be lan
“I didn’
hink i
o ld
n o
a ” i
ec e
epi aph of in imac .
To in ima e i
o comm nica e
i h he pa e
of ign and ge
e , and
a i
oo in imac ha
of elo ence and b e i . B
in imac
al o in ol e an a pi a ion fo a na a i e abo
ome hing ha ed, a
bo h one elf and o he
n o
in a pa ic la
a . U all , hi
i hin one of familia i
and comfo : f iend hip,
he co ple, and he famil fo m, anima ed b e p e i e and emancipa ing kind of lo e. Ye
he in a dne
of he in ima e i me b a co eponding p blicne . People con en
hei de i e fo “a life” o
in i
ion of in imac ; and i i hoped ha
he ela ion fo med
i hin
ho e f ame
n o
if ll , la
ing o e
he long d
a ion, pe –
ac o
gene a ion .
of “a life” ha
nfold in ac
i hin he in ima e phe e
ep e e , of co
e, ano he fac abo
i : he na oidable
o ble , he
ac ion and di
p ion
ha make hing
n o
in np edic ed
cena io . Romance and f iend hip ine i abl mee
he in abili ie of e ali , mone , e pec a ion, and e ha
ion, p od cing, a
he e
mo al d ama of e
angemen and be a al, along
i h e ible pecacle of neglec and iolence e en
he e de i e, pe hap , end e . Since
he ea l
en ie h cen
he e
ong ambi alence
i hin he in ima e
phe e ha e been eco ded b p olife a ing fo m of he ape ic p blici . A p e en , in he U.S., he ap
a e
he cene of in imac , f om
C i ical In
? 1998 b
24 (Win e
The Uni e
of Chicago. 0093-1896/98/2402-0001$02.00. All
e e
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282 La
en Be lan In imac : A Special I
choanal i and
el e- ep g o p o gi l alk, alk ho , and o he
i ne ing gen e .
J i p dence ha al o aken on a he ape ic f nc ion in hi domain, no abl a i adicall
in e p e a ion of e pon ibili
ca e of ma i al and child ab
e. B
i i
al ha a
he mo
con o e ial of he e change . The eme gence of e al ha a men la a a emed fo
he n an ed e ali a ion of in i
a kl ma k
he amne ia a o nd hich de i e’ op imi m and i
hle ne con e ge. Again and again, e ee ho ha d i i
o adj dica e he no m of a p blic o ld hen i i al o an in ima e one, e peciall
he e he mi ed- p in
men al and affec i e ela ion of collegiali
a e conce ned.
The e ela ion be
een de i e and he ap , hich ha e become ine nal o he mode n, ma -media ed en e of in imac , ell
ome hing
el e abo
i : in imac b ild
o ld ; i c ea e pace and
p place
mean fo o he kind of ela ion. I
po en ial fail e o
abili e clo ene al a
ha n
pe i en ac i i , making he e
a achmen
deemed o b
“a life” eem in a
. E en f om hi
mall cl

no one kno
a e of con
an if la en
lne abil-
of e ample and cene i become clea
o do in imac ; ha e e
one feel e pe
i (a lea abo
o he people’ di a e ); and ha ma fa cina ion
i h he agg e ion, incohe ence,
lne abili , and ambi alence a
cene of de i e omeho e cala e he demand fo
adi ional p omi e
of in ima e happine
o be f lfilled in e e one’ e e da life.
The in en i ie of he e m l iple domain indeed de igna e in imac
a a pecial i
e. Thi n mbe of C i ical In i
ake on a a p oblem
o a ic la e he a
opian, op imi maining e ion of
in imac mee
he no ma i e p ac ice , fan a ie , in i
ion , and ideologie ha o gani e people’
o ld . The e a
ga he ed he e, ho e ca e
a e e man di cipline and domain , a
idel in he c i ical and
he o ical egi e
in hich he
ep e en
he con in i ie and di con in i ie
i hin he in ima e field, looking a
hei pa ic la impac on
he ca ego i a ion of e pe ience and
bjec i i . The
eek o nde and he pedagogie ha enco age people o iden if ha ing a life i h
ha ing an in ima e life. The
ack he p oce e b
hich in ima e li e
ab o b and epel he he o ic , la , e hic , and ideologie of he hegemonic p blic phe e, b
al o pe onali e he effec of he p blic phe e
La en Be lan , a coedi o of C i ical In i , eache Engli h a
Uni e i
of Chicago. She i he a ho of The Q een of Ame ica Goe o
Wa hing on Ci : E a
on Se and Ci i en hip (1997) and The Ana om
ional Fan a : Ha ho ne, U opia, and E e da Life (1991).
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of Na-
C i ical In
and ep od ce a fan a
life: he
ha p i a e life i
Win e 1998 283
he eal in con
eal, he el e he e, he fallen, he i
o collec i e
ele an . Ho
hink abo
he a
a achmen make people p blic, p od cing an pe onal iden i ie and bjec i i ie , hen ho e a achmen come f om
i hin pace a a ied a ho e of dome ic in imac , a e polic , and
ma -media ed e pe ience of in en el di
p i e c i e ? And ha ha e
he e fo ma i e enco n e
o do
ali ed e en ,
ake place on he
hich migh
o k, b
a el
i h he effec
egi e a an
of o he , le
in i
ee , on he phone, in fan-
hing b
e id e? In imac
he enigma of hi ange of a achmen , and mo e; and i po e a e ion of cale ha link he in abili
of indi id al li e o he ajec o ie
of he collec i e.
A ela ed aim of hi ef aming of in imac i h
o engage and
di able a p e alen U.S. di co
e on he p ope
ela ion be een p blic
and p i a e, pace
adi ionall a ocia ed i h he gende ed di i ion of
labo . The e ca ego ie a e con ide ed b man
o be a chaic
fo ma ion , legacie of a Vic o ian fan a
ha he o ld can be di ided
in o a con ollable pace ( he p i a e-affec i e) and an ncon ollable one
( he p blic-in
men al). Fan a , ho e e , ma
nde de c ibe he conin ing a
ac ion of he a achmen o hi di i ion beca e he di co
o ld de c ibed b
he p blic and he p i a e ha , hi o icall , o gani ed
and j
ified o he legall and con en ionall ba ed fo m of ocial di iion (male and female, o k and famil , coloni e and coloni ed, f iend
and lo e , he e o and homo, ” nma ked” pe onhood e
acial-, e hnic-, and cla -ma ked iden i ie ). A imple bo nda
can e e be a e and
make he o ld in elligible; he aken-fo -g an edne of pa ial a onomie like p blic and p i a e make hi cl
e of a onomic a ocia ion
in o fac
i hin o dina
bjec i i
ell. Thi chain of di a ocia ion
p o ide one a of concei ing h
o man in i
ion no
all a ocia ed i h feeling can be ead a in i
ion of in imac .
The e i a hi o
o he ad en of in imac a a p blic mode of idenifica ion and elf-de elopmen , o hich I can all de onl b iefl he e.
J i gen Habe ma ha a g ed ha he bo geoi idea of a p blic phe e
elied on he eme gence of a mode of c i ical p blic di co
e ha fo m la ed and ep e en ed a p blic’ in e e
i hin ci il ocie
a e.’ The de elopmen of c i ical p blicne depended on he e panion of cla -mi ed emifo mal in i
ion like he alon and he caf6,
ci c la ing p in media, and ind
ial capi ali m; he no ion of he democ a ic p blic phe e h
made collec i e in imac a p blic and ocial
ideal, one of f ndamen al poli ical in e e . Wi ho
i he p blic’ ole a
c i ic co ld no be e
1. See Ji
abli hed.
gen Habe ma , The S
in o a Ca ego
of Bo
b idge, Ma ., 1989).
geoi Socie
al T an fo ma ion of he P blic Sphe e: An In
an . Thoma B
and F ede ick La
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ence (Cam-
284 La
en Be lan In imac : A Special I
Pe on
e e o be p epa ed fo hei c i ical ocial f nc ion in ha
Habe ma call he in ima e phe e of dome ici , he e he
o ld
lea n ( a , f om no el and ne pape ) o e pe ience hei in e nal li e
hea icall , a ho gh o ien ed o a d an a dience. Thi i o a
libe al ocie
a fo nded on he mig a ion of in imac e pec a ion
be een he p blic and he dome ic. B if he eme gence and e panion of in i
ion ha gene a ed an in imac in hich people pa icipa ed ac i el
e e een o be c cial o he democ a ic poli , in i
ha p od ced collec i e e pe ience, like cinema and o he en e ainmen fo m , came o mi
he c i ical demand of democ a ic c l
i h he de i e fo en e ainmen aken fo plea
e. Since he non aional and nonin i
ionall inde ed a pec of he in ima e had been
( heo e icall ) bani hed f om legi ima e democ a ic p blicne , plea
ekno ledge c ea e p oblem fo he no ional a ionali
i h hich collec i e c i ical con cio ne i
ppo ed o p oceed. Thi de elopmen ,
along i h he e pan ion of mino i i ed p blic ha e i o a e denied
ni e
collec i e in imac
e pec a ion , ha m ch complica ed
he po ibili
of (and e en he e hic of he de i e fo ) a gene al ma c i ical p blic phe e deemed o be c l
all and poli icall in ima e i h
i elf.2
Fo in imac
o mo e han ha
hich ake place i hin he
ie of in i ion , he a e, and an ideal of p blicne . Wha if e
a i eme ge f om m ch mo e mobile p oce e of a achmen ? While
he fan a ie a ocia ed i h in imac
all end p occ p ing he pace
of con en ion, in p ac ice he d i e o a d i i a kind of ild hing ha
i no nece a il o gani ed ha
a , o an
a .3 I can be po able, na –
ached o a conc e e pace: a d i e ha c ea e pace a o nd i h o gh
p ac ice . The kind of connec ion ha impac on people, and on hich
he depend fo li ing (if no “a life”), do no al a
e pec he p edic able fo m : na ion and ci i en , ch che and he fai hf l, o ke a
o k,
i e and eade , memo i e of ong , people ho alk dog
im a he ame ime each da , fe i hi
and hei objec , eache
den , e ial lo e , po
lo e , li ene
o oice
ho e plain
hing manageabl (on he adio, a confe ence , on ele i ion c een ,
2. See O ka Neg and Ale ande Kl ge, P blic Sphe e and E pe ience: To a d an Anal i
of he Bo geoi and P ole a ian P blic Sphe e, an . Pe e Laban l, Jamie Daniel, and A enka
Ok iloff (Minneapoli , 1993). See al o Mi iam Han en, fo
a d o Neg and Kl ge, P blic
Sphe e and E pe ience, pp. i – li and Babel and Bab lon: Spec a o hip in Ame ican Silen Film
(Camb idge, Ma ., 1991). Fo a po e f l medi a ion on he con adic ion be
ncon cio
een he
d i e o a d omnipo ence and he p ojec of democ ac , ee Joel Whi ebook,
e ion and U opia: A S d in P
i and C i ical Theo
(Camb idge, Ma ., 1995).
3. Fo ca l ‘
o k on ecogni ing he m l iplici of ela ion engende ed a e e
momen b e ali ha been cen al o hi p ojec . See, fo e ample, Michel Fo ca l ,
“F iend hip a a Wa of Life” and “Se , Po e , and he Poli ic of Iden i ,” in E hic : S bjeci i and T
h, ed. Pa l Rabino (Ne Yo k, 1997), pp. 135-40, 163-73.
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C i ical In
Win e 1998 285
on line, in he ap ), fan and celeb i ie -I (o
o ) co ld go on.4 The e
pace a e p od ced ela ionall ; people and/in in i
ion can e
epea edl
o hem and p od ce ome hing, ho gh f e en l no hi o
in i o dina , memo able, o
alo i ed en e, and no al a
” omehing” of po i i e al e.5
In imac
een in hi p eading a doe gene a e an ae he ic, an
ae he ic of a achmen , b no ine i able fo m o feeling a e a ached
o i .6 Thi i
he e no ma i e ideologie come in, hen ce ain “e p e –
i e” ela ion a e p omo ed ac o
p blic and p i a e domain -lo e,
comm ni , pa io i m- hile o he ela ion , mo i a ed, a , b
he “appe i e ,” a e di c edi ed o impl neglec ed. Con adic o
de i e ma k
he in imac of dail life: people an o be bo h o e helmed and omnipo en , ca ing and agg e i e, kno n and incogni o. The e pola ene –
gie ge pla ed o
in he in ima e one of e e
life and can be
ecogni ed in p choanal i , e mainl
he a e een no a in imac b
a a dange o i . Like i e, de i e fo in imac
ha b pa
he co ple o
he life na a i e i gene a e ha e no al e na i e plo , le alone fe la
and able pace of c l
e in hich o cla if and o c l i a e hem.
Wha happen o he ene g of a achmen
hen i ha no de igna ed
place?7′ To he glance , ge
e , enco n e , collabo a ion , o fan a ie
ha ha e no canon? A
i h mino li e a
e , mino in imacie ha e
been fo ced o de elop ae he ic of he e
eme o p h he e pace
in o being b
a of mall and g and ge
e ;8 he i h fo no malc
e e
he e hea d he e da , oiced b mino i i ed bjec , of en e p e e a i h no o ha e o p h o ha d in o de o ha e “a life.” To
4. Man of he e ho gh abo
he ci c la ion of in imac
h o gh o ie and enco n e
ha ha e impac eme ged in con e a ion
i h Ka ie S e a . See Ka hleen S e a
, A Space on he Side of he Road: C l
al Poe ic in an “O he “Ame ica (P ince on, N.J., 1996).
5. On he an fo ma ional po ibili ie of he ome hing ha hold a place open fo
nfo e een change , ee La en Be lan , “’68, o Some hing,” C i ical In i
21 (Fall 1994):
124-55. Fo mo e on ome official and pop la con e
of con empo a
U.S. in imac
poli ic , ee Be lan , The Q een of Ame ica Goe
o Wa hing on Ci
(D ham, N.C., 1997) and “Femini m and he In i
Re ea ch, ed. E. Ann Kaplan and Geo ge Le ine (Ne
6. I ha e lea ned o hink abo
eading Jac
e plo ed he
eline Ro e,
ho e
he an ifo mali
o k ince Se
:E a
on Se and Ci i en hip
ion of In imac ,” in The Poli ic of
B n ick, N.J., 1997), pp. 143-61.
endencie of he in ima e f om
in he Field of Vi ion (London, 1986) ha
ne en ci c la ion of de i e h o gh lang age in man
e ali , p choanal
in hich fan a
i , li e a
e, famil , and na ion . She ho
i co ched lead o an ine i able fail e o
domain -cinema,
he ling i ic in aabili e de i e in iden i ,
a co n e ailing de i e b domina ing
e o di a o o demoni e ha in abili ,
and, none hele , he ongoing ca ee of de i e ha p he apa
he e
f ame ha o gani e i . See e peciall Ro e, The Ha n ing of S l ia Pla h (Camb idge, Ma ., 1991) and S a e
of Fan a
(Ne Yo k, 1996).
7. Fo an elabo a e an e
o hi
e ion, ee E e Ko of k Sedg ick, “A Poem I
Being W i en,” Tendencie (D ham, 1993), pp. 177-214.
8. See Gille Dele e and Feli G a a i, “Wha I a Mino Li e a
e?” an . Dana
Polan, in O
The e: Ma ginali a ion and Con empo a
C l
e , ed. R
ell Fe g
(Camb idge, Ma ., 1990), pp. 59-69. See al o Be lan , “’68, o Some hing.”
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on e al.
286 La
en Be lan In imac : A Special I
li e a if h ea ening con e
a e me el el e he e migh
ell ne
ali e
he gho l image of one’ o n ocial nega i i ; and he con an ene g
of p blic elf-p o ec i ene can be blima ed in o pe onal ela ion of
pa ion, ca e, and good in en ion.9 The e a e good ea on fo hi a pia ion. Dome ic p i ac can feel like a con ollable pace, a o ld of poen ial nconflic edne (e en fo fi e min e a da ): a o ld b il fo
o . I ma
eem of a manageable cale and pacing; a be , i make
i ible he effec of one’ agenc , con cio ne , and in en ion. Thi lead
o ano he ea on he co ple fo m and i
pinoff o effec i el
off c i ical ho gh abo
he pe onal and he poli ical: o ef e he
a ional na a i e of “a life” o ld e i e a conf on a ion i h ano he idea, ha ocial fo ce and p oblem of li ing ha eem no abo
he p i a e ” o ” a e, none hele , cen al o he hape of o
o .’0
I lea ned o hink abo
he e e ion in he con e
of femini /
ee pedagog ; and ho man
ime ha e I a ked m o n
e plain
h ,
hen he e a e o man
people, onl
one plo co n
“life” (fi
come lo e, hen … )? Tho e ho don’ o can’ find hei
in ha
o – he ee , he ingle, he ome hing el e-can become o
ea il
nimaginable, e en of en o hem el e . Ye i i ha d no o ee
l ing abo e e
he e he de i
and he amp a ion ha come f om
a emp
o fi in o he fold; mean hile, a lo of o ld-b ilding ene g
a ophie . Re hinking in imac call o no onl fo ede c ip ion b
an fo ma i e anal e of he he o ical and ma e ial condi ion ha
enable hegemonic fan a ie o h i e in he mind and on he bodie of
hile, a he ame ime, a achmen a e de eloping ha migh
edi ec he diffe en o e aken b hi o
and biog aph . To e hink
in imac i o app ai e ho
e ha e been and ho
e li e and ho
migh imagine li e ha make mo e en e han he one o man a e
li ing.
Fo in imac onl a el make en e of hing . People alk abo
de i e fo i and he fea of i , b i he “i ” impl commi men ? In i
in an ia ion a de i e, i de abili e he e
hing ha in i ion of
in imac a e c ea ed o
abili e; and people a e con an l
p i ed
hi . Thi ba ic di a o al i
ppo ed b he cen ali of in imaion o in imac . Con en ionall , in i e p e ion h o gh lang age, in imac elie hea il on he hif ing egi e of n poken ambi alence. I
i in e fe ed i h b me adi co e ( ela ion hip alk) and p efe
calm of in e nal p e
e, he aken-fo -g an edne of he feeling ha
9. Fo a
ong eading of he a ” he e ima e” ( he ejec ed, p ojec ed o b
ne e f ll lo objec of elf-iden i ) can ake on na a i e hape and in en i , ee Joan
Copjec, Read M De i e: Lacan again
he Hi o ici
(Camb idge, Ma ., 1995), pp. 117-39.
10. Fo a mode of ocial heo
ha he o icall and anal icall link he po ibili
of conc e e j ice o a adical nde anding of he a people a e poli icall (di )po e ed b
o ie , ee Pa icia J. William , The Alchem of Race and Righ : Dia
of a La
P ofe –
o (Camb idge, Ma ., 1991).
This content downloaded from on Sun, 04 Aug 2019 03:46:40 UTC
All use subject to https://about.jstor.org/terms
C i ical In
Win e 1998 287
he e o ld be a flo ing ei e a ion he e he in ima e i . Th
f iend o lo e
an o alk abo ” he ela ion hip”; hen ci i en feel
ha he na ion’ con en ed- o ali ie a e hif ing a a ; hen ne
eade o ho
of ele i ion ho
bo o of hei ag eemen o eca
o ld in comfo ing a ; hen people of appa en l diffe en ace and
cla e find hem el e in lo , c o ded ele a o ; o
den and
anal and feel ddenl mi
f l of he con e
in o hich he ha e
en e ed in o de o change, b no
a ma icall , in imac
e eal i elf
o be a ela ion a ocia ed i h aci fan a ie , aci
le , and aci obligaion o emain np oblema ic. We no ice i
hen ome hing abo i
ake on a cha ge, o ha he in imac become ome hing el e, an “i –
e”- ome hing ha
i e anal
ic elo
ence. I become ha de
ee he p e mp ion o e en he de i e fo
able aci ne i elf a a p oblem ha ep od ce panic in he in ima e field.
The e c i e a e no j
pe onal. When a e , pop la ion , o pe on en e ha hei defini ion of he eal i nde h ea ; hen he
no ma i e ela
be een pe onal and collec i e e hic become f a ed
and e po ed; and hen adi ional i e of plea
e and p ofi eem o
ge ” aken a a ” b
he poli ical ac ion of bo dina ed g o p , a en e
of an ie
ill be pe a i el fel abo
o de e mine e pon ibili
fo he di
p ion of hegemonic comfo . Thi nea e n e le ocial and
poli ical ela ion be een, i hin, and among man people, na ion , and
pop la ion , e peciall fo me l
o e eign one . Va io kind of ha e
c ime, bi e ne , and “comedic” a i e f e en l en e.
In pa ic la , ac o
he globe challenge o he p blic/p i a e a onom f om femini , an ihomophobic, an i aci , and an ipo e
mo e-
ha e been e pe ienced a an i
p ion of he mo
ac ed and
a ional fo m of in ima e in elligibili , a cancelling o
of indi id al and
collec i e de inie , an impedimen o na a i i
and he f
e i elf.
Wha kind of (collec i e, pe onal) a ho i , e pe i e, en ailmen , and
can be ppo ed, and ha kind of (collec i e, pe onal) f
can be imagined if, fo e ample, e ali
i no longe bo nd o i na ai e, doe no lead o abili ing ome hing, ome hing in i
ional (like
pa ia chal familie o o he kind of ep od c ion ha p op p he f e of pe on and na ion ); if ci i en and o ke a e no longe c ea ed
b familie and he in i
ion of loco pa en i , namel , chool and eligion ; if (beca e of AIDS, globall high mo ali
a e among na ional
mino i ie , en i onmen al o in , i len
an na ional e ploi a ion, ongoing mili a
and a a ion genocide , and o he ongoing o ce of
c ion) a gene a ion i no longe defined b p oc ea ional ch onolog , b
ma ked b
a ma and dea h? The immediac of a ma i ala
en al, b
i i a likel
o be a ma -media ed e en , an e en of
hea a and po fac o i ne ing, a i i o be a di ec blo
o he bod ;
and e can ee f om a ma’ c
en p e alence a an occa ion fo e imon ho
hocking i i
hen an in ima e ela ion i anima ed b
This content downloaded from on Sun, 04 Aug 2019 03:46:40 UTC
All use subject to https://about.jstor.org/terms
288 La
en Be lan In imac : A Special I
de a a ion. In imac
ppo ed o be abo op imi m, emembe ?
B i i al o fo med a o nd h ea
o he image of he o ld i eek
pecial i
mani ie and h mani
e eek
o f
ic ocial cience abo
ongoing con e
he mode of a
a ion in he h achmen
ha make pe on p blic and collec i e and ha make collec i e cene
in ima e pace . The e a
o follo begin o ca alog ome of in imac ‘
no m , fo m , and c ime : ho p blic in i
e i
e of in ima e
life o no mali e pa ic la fo m of kno ledge and p ac ice and o c ea e
(Poo e , G a on, Po inelli, Wa ne and Be lan ); ho
di co
e of e al
ffe ing o
a ma ha e o magne i ed c i e in a
hole e
ela ed field
o ie of
he in ima e ha e become in epa-
able f om, fo e ample,
o ie abo
ci i en hip, capi ali m, ae he ic
fo m , poli ical iolence, and he
i ing of hi o
(Hancha d, Bo m,
og, Kipni , Poo e , Vogle , Po inelli, Wa ne
and Be lan ); ho
people become
p i ed b
he a
o dina
e change become in en ified pe fo mance of m
and g o nded b
he cen ali
of i ali ed lang age fo in imac (Sedg ick, Feld, Vogle , Kipni ); ho memo
o k
o c ea e po able cene
emind one of pa
in imacie and
pe fo m hei
ange eappea ance in n
al pace (Bo m, He og,
Po inelli, Sedg ick, Feld) and
al one (Sn de and Le in k ).
The o k of hi ” pecial i
e” i no fini hed, no b a long ho .
The ici i de of edi ing and deadline lea e me longing fo mo e ca e ,
mo e na a i e , mo e a emp
o b ing o e p e ion he a
a achmen
make o ld and o ld-changing fan a ie , b ibe people o li e
ha ho ld be nli able ela ion of domina ion and iolence, and o
on. The e i nei he p choanal icall ba ed e plo a ion in hi i
o k on cinema, ele i ion, li e a
e, o le globali ed media, like
amp o ine ; and i gene al p e en ne and foc on no ma i i
gge o he place ha f
e o k migh go. B
I ho ld op he e.
In od c ion a e cap ion o he image a e
make , and like Joel Sn de , ho c a ed La a Le in k ‘ pho o b
an ed o cap ion hem
onl minimall , I an ed o cha
he p ojec fo
i ho
o e in e p e ing he
o k ha follo
. In an
ca e, le me hank m
ha d- o king
a ho and p od ce he e; he edi o on he ma head ho e ie ed
man e a
i h me; he f iend , a ho , and colleag e
ho ead he
in od c ion (Bill B o n, La a Kipni , Be h Po inelli, Roge Ro e, Kaie S e a , Candace Vogle , Michael Wa ne , Li a Wedeen); and Ja William , Ae on H n , Jennife Pe e on, Za ena A lami, and Neda Ulab ,
ho did he ha d edi o ial o k of ac all p
ing he i
e oge he .
Thank al o o Allan Sek la fo pe mi ion o e hi image on he co e .
Finall , ho ld an
eade be in e e ed in bmi ing o CI o k ela ed
o hi in imac p ojec , he
ho ld flag i a
ch. Then, pe hap , e
can look fo a d o cl
e of in imac in f
e i
e .
This content downloaded from on Sun, 04 Aug 2019 03:46:40 UTC
All use subject to https://about.jstor.org/terms
JOS0010.1177/1440783316662718Journal of SociologyHobbs et al.
Liquid love? Dating apps, sex,
relationships and the digital
transformation of intimacy
Journal of Sociology
2017, Vol. 53(2) 271–284
© The Author(s) 2016
Reprints and permissions:
DOI: 10.1177/1440783316662718
Mitchell Hobbs
University of Sydney, Australia
Stephen Owen
University of New South Wales, Australia
Livia Gerber
Macquarie University, Australia
In Liquid Love Zygmunt Bauman argued that the solidity and security once provided by life-long
partnerships has been ‘liquefied’ by rampant individualisation and technological change. He
believes internet dating is symptomatic of social and technological change that transforms modern
courtship into a type of commodified game. This article explores the experiences of users of
digital dating and hook-up applications (or ‘apps’) in order to assess the extent to which a digital
transformation of intimacy might be under way. It examines the different affordances provided by
dating apps, and whether users feel the technology has influenced their sexual practices and views
on long-term relationships, monogamy and other romantic ideals. This study shows that dating
apps are intermediaries through which individuals engage in strategic performances in pursuit
of love, sex and intimacy. Ultimately, this article contends that some accounts of dating apps
and modern romantic practices are too pessimistic, and downplay the positives of ‘networked
Courtship, dating apps, hook-up apps, relationships, sexual behaviour, social media.
Corresponding author:
Mitchell Hobbs, Department of Media and Communications, University of Sydney, John Woolley A20,
Manning Road, Sydney, New South Wales, 2006, Australia.
Email: mitchell.hobbs@sydney.edu.au
Journal of Sociology 53(2)
A ‘digital revolution’ is under way with regard to dating, courtship and modern romance.
Unlike previous generations, single adults today, particularly those living in large metropolitan centres, have a seemingly endless variety of potential romantic and sexual partners available through the social networks and algorithms of their smartphones. Indeed,
the internet has become a powerful ‘social intermediary’. It has partially displaced the
role of traditional ‘matchmakers’, such as family, friends and community leaders, as well
as the matchmaking function once commonly performed by classified ‘lonely-hearts’
columns and dating agencies (Ansari, 2015; Quiroz, 2013; Slater, 2013). Traditional sites
and locales for meeting singles, including schools, universities, pubs, clubs and workplaces, have also been partially displaced, with the internet increasingly allowing people
to meet and form relationships with people with whom they have no previous social ties
(Rosenfeld and Thomas, 2012). Data from the Pew Research Centre in the United States
shows that 15% of American adults have used online dating sites or mobile dating applications (henceforth ‘dating apps’) with this usage steadily increasing each year (see
Smith, 2016). The trend is even higher among same-sex couples, with approximately
70% having met their partner online rather than through a face-to-face introduction
(Ansari, 2015; Rosenfeld and Thomas, 2012: 530). Dating websites and apps are now
commonly seen as a socially acceptable and advantageous means of meeting a long-term
partner (see Smith and Anderson, 2016).
Mobile dating apps are particularly important to modern courtship and sexual activity,
as they offer experiences that are distinct from those provided by dating websites. Indeed,
the increased usage of dating and hook-up apps, as opposed to dating websites, lies in the
their tactile functionality and mobility. Popular dating apps like Tinder, and its many
clones, use a photo-driven design tailored for smartphones. Users are shown photos of
nearby individuals and can swipe right to ‘like’ and left to ‘dislike’, with mutual right
swipes resulting in a ‘match’ and the ability to begin a conversation. According to two of
the founders of Tinder, Sean Rad and Justin Mateen, the app was designed to challenge
and supplant online dating websites by offering a more fluid experience (Stampler, 2014).
Tinder was designed to ‘take the stress out of dating’, being a type of ‘game’ that requires
less time and emotional investment to play (Stampler, 2014). This design philosophy is
reflected in the features of the software, where people’s profiles are similar to a deck of
playing cards, and love, sex and intimacy are the stakes of the game. Of course the burgeoning popularity of dating apps raises questions regarding their influence on courtship
practices and coupling, and whether they might also affect expectations and desires.
In Liquid Love, Zygmunt Bauman (2003, see also 2012) argued that the twin forces of
individualisation and social change have ‘liquefied’ the solidity and security once provided by romantic partnerships and family structures. Bauman (2003) specifically identifies ‘computer-dating’ as symptomatic of what he calls ‘liquid love’, arguing that it has
transformed romance and courtship into a type of entertainment where users can date
‘secure in the knowledge they can always return to the marketplace for another bout of
shopping’ (2003: 65). Implicit in Bauman’s ideas is the suggestion that life-long monogamous partnerships are being eroded by the proliferation of extensive ‘networks’ of
romantic possibility (Bauman, 2003: xii).
This article seeks to explore whether dating apps are facilitating ‘liquid love’ by examining the influences and augmentation provided by digital dating apps. In particular, this
investigation explores the extent to which the networks of romantic possibility offered by
Hobbs et al.
dating apps may be eroding traditional ideals of monogamy, commitment and the notion
of romantic love. As there is to date limited research specifically on dating apps, this study
aims to be an exploratory investigation that identifies the various affordances and transformations provided by the technologies, with the intent of also highlighting areas in need
of further research. What follows is a brief review of the existing literature and the study’s
methodology, and then a more in-depth exploration of emerging patterns of usage and
their potential social consequences.
Literature review
Several bodies of literature inform this investigation. The first is the sociological
research on love, relationships and sexuality. As has been documented by Anthony
Giddens (1991, 1992), throughout the 20th century, social change and an increased
emphasis on equality and self-discovery drove a ‘sexual revolution’. Technological
developments in contraception freed sex from its intrinsic relationship to reproduction.
Likewise, feminism drove a radical transformation of the personal sphere. Giddens
(1992) argues that relationships in late modernity are increasingly reflective of the ‘pure
relationship’, an ideal type where a relationship is based on sexual and emotional equality and continues only for as long as both parties derive mutual satisfaction. According
to Giddens (1992), the development of a pure relationship is related to further changes
in the personal sphere, especially the emergence of ‘plastic sexuality’ and ‘confluent
love’. Plastic sexuality refers to the greater sexual freedoms provided by modern societies. Giddens (1992: 2) states:
Plastic sexuality can be moulded as a trait of personality and thus is intrinsically bound up with
the self. At the same time – in principle – it frees sexuality from the rule of the phallus from the
overweening importance of male sexual experience.
Confluent love, on the other hand, refers to love that is active and contingent, and is
distinct from the ideal of ‘romantic love’ in that it is not seen as something that is ‘forever
after’ but lasts for as long as both remain invested in the relationship. Pure relationships
do, then, offer the potential for partnerships which prize intimacy and happiness above
other social or cultural concerns; albeit these relationships are potentially less durable
due to their ‘contingent’ nature.
The idea that relationships in the modern world are less durable than those of previous
generations has also been explored in the work of Ulrich Beck and Elisabeth BeckGernsheim (1995, 2002). In The Normal Chaos of Love, Beck and Beck-Gernsheim
(1995) argue that marriage and family life have become more ‘flimsy’ due to rapidly
changing social values. Unlike previous generations, people today are confronted with
an endless series of choices as part of constructing, adjusting, and developing the unions
they form with others. They suggest that there is a slight unravelling in the bonds of
romantic couple relationships because people are seemingly aware that their partnerships
often do not last and are therefore wary of investing too much into them. This ‘risk aversion’ leads people to invest more in themselves, and in a range of other relationships,
especially friendships. Despite an increasing tendency towards individualisation, Beck
and Beck-Gernsheim believe that people still idealise love. Throughout one’s life-course,
Journal of Sociology 53(2)
relationships begin, dissolve and begin again in an endless pursuit of true love and fulfilment (Beck and Beck-Gernsheim, 1995, 2002).
As noted earlier, Bauman (2003) believes computer dating is symptomatic of ‘liquid
love’. His thesis concerns the frailty of human bonds in an age of rampant individualisation, consumerism, and rapid social and technological change. Bauman (2003) argues
that virtual relationships are increasingly supplanting more fixed and inert ‘real’ relationships, and that the widespread usage of mediated communication is leading individuals
to think more of transient connections than life-long partnerships. Dating is being transformed into a recreational activity, where people are seen as largely disposable as one
can always ‘press delete’ (Bauman, 2003: 65). These themes are present in the more
recent work of Sherry Turkle (2011), who, in Alone Together, argues that ‘these days
insecure in our relationship and anxious about intimacy, we look to technology for ways
to be in relationships and to protect us from them at the same time’ (2011: xii).
Academic studies specifically on online and mobile dating approach the topic from a
number of angles. Ellison et al. (2006: 430) found that online dating profiles are created
to represent an ideal-self, yet in the face of imminent offline interaction ‘individuals had
to balance their desire for self-promotion with their need for accurate self-presentation’.
Couch and Liamputtong (2008) report that their participants strategically ‘filtered’ out
whom to meet face-to-face by scrutinising interactions and images to assess the authenticity of their potential partners before engaging in sexual activities. As a result, some
studies have found that sexual networks are expanded through the use of digital technology, leading to an increase in the number of sexual partners and casual encounters, while
others have noted that many individuals use this technology with the intention of finding
a long-term partner or ‘soul mate’ (see Barraket and Henry-Waring, 2008; Couch and
Liamputtong, 2008; Goluboff, 2015; Meenagh, 2015). The research literature shows that
these dating intermediaries have been especially important in increasing the number of
romantic possibilities for ‘thin markets’, such as gays, lesbians and middle-aged heterosexuals (see Blackwell et al., 2015; Race, 2015; Rosenfeld and Thomas, 2012).
Despite the recent academic attention paid to online dating, there are several areas in
need of further development. There is to date very little literature on dating apps as a distinct social phenomenon, with much of the literature focusing instead on dating websites
and the use of social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter to pursue romantic and
sexual opportunities. Moreover, much of the literature has focused on risk and sexual
health matters (Landovitz et al., 2012; Prestage et al., 2015; Rice et al., 2012), and comes
more from a psychological or health studies perspective than a sociological paradigm. As
such, the following discussion seeks to address some of the gaps in the academic literature
by exploring the experiences and perspectives of users through sociological theories on
networks, technology and the micro-politics of everyday interaction. Specifically, this
study seeks to highlight how users feel these technologies might have impacted social
constructions and ideals, such as commitments to monogamy and long-term relationships.
Methodology and sample
This is a mixed-methods investigation consisting of an online survey and in-depth interviews. The online survey was initially broadcast via the Facebook and Twitter accounts
Hobbs et al.
of the authors to their network connections (an initial audience of over 4000 people).
The invitation was then subsequently ‘shared’ and ‘re-tweeted’ by willing network connections, and so on, in a ‘snowballing’ fashion. While the ‘snowball method’ can have
epistemological limitations with regard to generating statistically significant representative samples, the research method is nevertheless capable of collecting data indicative
of broader social patterns and trends, especially when the survey reaches a broad cohort
of participants (see Atkinson and Flint, 2003; Denscombe, 2010: 37; Neuman, 2011:
The Human Research Ethics Committee (HREC) of the University of Sydney gave
approval to the project (Project No: 2015/716) in October 2015. This study’s information
statement, along with a control question, made it clear that only ‘present and past users
of dating and/or hook-up applications’ were able to complete the survey, and that their
privacy would be protected. The survey consisted of a combination of open-ended,
multiple-choice and Likert-scale questions and took approximately 20–25 minutes to
complete. Conducted between October 2015 and January 2016, the survey had a total of
365 respondents, of whom most, but not all, answered all questions.
Detailed demographic information was collected from the research participants.
Approximately 80% of the respondents were Australian, but 14 other nationalities were
also represented in the survey data. With regard to gender identification, 58% identified as
female, 40% as male, 0.5% as transgender, 0.5% as ‘other’ and 0.5% ‘prefer not to say’.
The sexuality of the participants varied, with approximately 73% identifying as ‘heterosexual’, 13.5% as ‘gay or lesbian’, 8% as ‘bisexual’, 1% as ‘asexual’ and 3% ‘as not
belonging to any of these categories’. The relationship status of participants was also
diverse, with 55% being ‘single/never married’, 21% in a ‘relationship but not living
together’, 13% ‘married or in a domestic partnership’, 7.5% as ‘divorced or separated’,
3.5% as ‘polyamorous’. In regards to the age of the participants, 11% were 18–22 years of
age, 35% were 23–7 (the largest cluster), 25% were 28–32 (the second largest cluster), 18%
were 33–7, 2.5% were 38–42, 8% were 42–9, and 1% were 50+. The socioeconomic status
(SES) of participants was also sought through a series questions on income, education and
occupation, with most respondents providing responses that classified them as belonging
to the broad ‘middle/upper middle SES’ grouping, with the ‘average’ participant being a
university-educated, white-collar professional in the early stages of their career.
Survey participants could self-select to participate in a follow-up in-depth, semistructured interview by sending an email to an account exclusively established for the
investigation. The first six individuals to express interest in participating in an in-depth
interview were selected to take part in the study. The interviewees included three women
and three men aged between 24 and 34. The majority of participants identified as heterosexual, with one interviewee identifying as lesbian. At the time of the interview, four
persons were single, and two were in a relationship. All participants resided in Sydney,
New South Wales, and their educational levels varied from undergraduate to postgraduate qualifications.
The majority of the in-depth interviews were conducted in participants’ homes in
November 2015. To maintain participants’ anonymity, they were assigned pseudonyms
in all transcriptions. The interviews sought to further explore issues and themes that
emerged from the survey, including the different tactics used by participants in finding a
Journal of Sociology 53(2)
date; their opinions regarding the potential social consequences of the technology; their
satisfaction and dissatisfaction with different variants of the software; and whether users
felt the technology had influenced their sexual practices and/or led to stable and fulfilling
relationships. It is to the views and experiences of both the interviewees and the survey
participants that we now proceed.
Analysis and discussion
Is Tinder ‘tearing society apart’?
One of the initial provocations for this study arose from the claims of Bauman and others
regarding the flimsy nature of modern relationships, along with claims of the emergence
of a technology-driven ‘hook-up culture’ as found in myriad opinion pieces published in
mainstream newspapers or news sites, such as a widely read New York Post piece titled
‘Tinder Is Tearing Society Apart’ (Riley, 2015). However, what the data collected for this
study suggest is that traditional views on dating, relationships and monogamy are still
largely prevalent. At best, dating and hook-up apps could be said to augment courtship
and sexual practices, while also fitting into an ensemble of social media technologies that
operate as ‘technologies of the self’ (Foucault, 1988) – an idea returned to below.
While survey participants used a number of different dating apps, Tinder was by far
the most popular platform with 84% of survey participants having used it. OKCupid was
the second most widely used dating app (used by 30%), followed by Happn (20%) and
Grindr (16%) (the latter of which is targeted towards gay and bisexual men). For most
users, these apps are attractive due to their ease of use and suitability for modern lifestyles. Indeed, 66% of survey respondents agreed with the proposition that these apps
afford them ‘a feeling of control’ over their romantic and sexual encounters, while 87%
believed that apps allowed them ‘more opportunities to find prospective partners’.
With regard to questions exploring ‘expectations of use’ and ‘sexual activity’, 55% of
the survey participants reported that they primarily use dating apps to find dates and 8%
reported that they use the apps merely to seek non-sexual friendships. In contrast, only
25% of survey respondents reported that they use the apps ‘primarily to find sexual
encounters’. Of those survey respondents who indicated that they were in a relationship,
10% said that they had used the technology to engage in a sexual affair, with a subsequent question revealing that most felt that they would not have ‘cheated’ on their partners had the apps not made it so easy to do so.
However, despite the small number of respondents using the technology for a sexual
affair, only 14% of respondents reported that they were ‘less inclined’ to seek a monogamous relationship since using dating/hook-up apps, while 72% said that they were just as
inclined to seek a monogamous relationship since using these apps. Moreover, a further
14% said that they were more inclined to seek a monogamous relationship since using
these apps. These are significant findings that undermine the ‘Tinder is tearing society
apart’ thesis and arguments concerning the ‘liquidity’ of traditional norms and ideals, as
many individuals are using the technology with the intention of finding a long-term
Further survey questions sought to canvass users’ feelings regarding app-enabled
dating/hook-ups versus those found in a physical face-to-face environment. Asked
whether they would prefer to find love via an app or in a physical environment, 61% of
Hobbs et al.
participants said that they would prefer to find love via a traditional face-to-face encounter, while 38% said that they did not have a preference. Asked a similar question in relation to finding a sexual partner, 48% would prefer to find a sexual partner in a face-to-face
encounter, while 42% had no preference and 11% responded that they would prefer to
find a sexual partner through the use of apps. The disparity between these results is
reflected in the opinions found during the interviews. Some interviewees felt uneasy
about telling others in their family and friendship networks that they used dating apps,
while others believed the technology is increasingly seen as a ‘legitimate’ means of
meeting a partner (a finding supported by Pew Research data – see Smith, 2016).
Hook-ups, desire and desirability
While data collected for this study suggest that dating apps are not giving rise to a rampant hook-up culture that is supplanting monogamy or long-term relationships, both the
survey responses and interviews revealed that some individuals are using the technology
to engage in casual sexual encounters. Indeed, many of the interviewees believed that the
apps gave them an unprecedented ability to find sexual partners without requiring them
to engage in further social interaction. For example, Alice, a 34-year-old single mother,
found that Tinder allowed her to control her sexual encounters in such a way that they
could occur in the small timeframes in which she was free for such encounters:
I’d just write ‘sex?’ so that was very direct, and it seemed to work for me, and then everyone
knew where they stood … as a single parent you’re so socially isolated [and] you’re financially
just screwed [and] it’s really tough, so you’re trying to see as many people in the shortest
amount of space and then you’re trying to use up the time that you have to yourself, which is
not that often.
She found that the app allowed her to establish clear expectations and boundaries,
informing sexual partners that they could not stay overnight, as she did not desire further
Alice also discussed the ways in which Tinder allowed her to get over a painful breakup not long after her child was born, and to work through feelings of rejection and feeling
undesirable. She believes ‘matches’ on dating apps are a form of social validation regarding desirability, which could have a positive impact on one’s self-esteem. She believes
that this affect allowed her to engage in a satisfying sex life:
[Using Tinder to find sex] was part of my journey.… I liked the way that I could make men
behave in a way that traditionally women have behaved.… I felt like I was in complete control
of everything and I just wish more women could experience that and not feel bad about
themselves and their bodies. So that’s what the dating apps did for me…. I got my power back.
In many ways Tinder acted as a ‘technology of the self’ (Foucault, 1988) through which
Alice could facilitate the construction and mastery of a self she longed for – desirable
and sexually active – and also played a therapeutic role in helping her heal the pains that
she felt due to her ex-partner leaving her. Foucault’s (1988) identification of the role of
‘technologies’ as related to self-care through self-knowledge leading to improving or
mastering the self has led to recent works that conceptualise social media technologies
Journal of Sociology 53(2)
similarly to technologies of the self (see Bakardjieva and Gaden, 2012; Bosch, 2011;
Marichal, 2012; Owen, 2014; Sauter, 2014).
Other interview participants, while not necessarily enjoying the same level of sexual
engagement as Alice, discussed the ways in which Tinder and similar apps allowed them
to quantify their desirability through the number of matches they received. For instance,
Alexander, a 27-year-old man who identifies as heterosexual, observed that there is a
degree of vanity and superficiality at play in using these apps: ‘it’s based purely on your
looks [so] it’s quite flattering I guess if [you] get a match … it’s very vain’. Alexander’s
views were also reflected in the opened-ended survey questions, with many individuals
mentioning both their awareness of the superficial nature of matches based on profile
photos, as well as the emotional pleasure of being categorised as a desirable match by
other users.
However, in the open-end survey questions, a small number of mostly male, heterosexual respondents expressed frustration regarding a lack of potential ‘matches’. As one
respondent commented: ‘The 10% of highly attractive people fucking all the time make
the rest of us feel bad’, while another remarked: ‘Everyone is copping a root but me’
(colloquial Australian-English referring to a lack of sexual activity). In short, much like
meeting in face-to-face settings, those individuals who conform to society’s dominant
ideals regarding attractiveness, are better positioned to exploit the affordances provided
by expanding digital dating networks.
Broadening the romantic net(work)
Tinder, as a form of social media, allows for a significantly expanded social network to
form. While networks facilitated by social media can be global, they tend to coalesce
around geographical proximity (Westcott and Owen, 2013). This is especially the case
with dating apps, where the goal of most users is to move from mediated communication
to ‘real-world’ dating and intimacy. Amy, a 25-year-old woman who identifies as heterosexual, and who is in a relationship with a man she met on Tinder, initially used the app
to find opportunities for sexual and romantic encounters from a broader social network
than that of her existing friendship group. Her motivations for using Tinder were:
Probably more for hook-ups in in the beginning…. It was just about meeting new people as
well I guess. Not with the intention of making friends, but it was kind of just getting out and
meeting different sorts of guys to the ones that I’ve hung out with in my social circle in the past.
While Amy admits that Tinder did eventually lead to a monogamous and fulfilling
relationship, overall her experience of dating through the app was not entirely satisfying:
‘if I had to say like how many good dates did I have versus how many of the bad ones I’d
definitely had more average to bad ones’, but that this corresponded with the nature of
the platform in that Tinder was ‘literally just opening like the possibilities wider’.
Alice similarly suggested that the majority of the dates she had via Tinder were less
satisfying than those she had previously had as a result of dating sites like E-Harmony
and RSVP, although she did have more dates as a result of using Tinder. Alice suggested
that this disparity arose because of the purely physical attraction between Tinder users
leading to a ‘match’, while dating sites suggested compatibility based on ‘parameters not
Hobbs et al.
based on simply aesthetics’, which was a ‘drawback’ as ‘being matched with someone on
an aesthetic basis meant that I found people to be quite boring, or didn’t connect with
them maybe mentally or intellectually’. This discussion highlights that more research is
needed into the role played by algorithms as romantic intermediaries.
Many of this study’s participants also mentioned that dating apps allowed them to
pursue multiple ‘matches’ simultaneously. Amy admitted to texting ‘not heaps of people
but probably like two or three’ while actively arranging a date with another person.
Likewise, Tim, a 24-year-old man who identifies as heterosexual, uses a strategy of moving conversations with matches to text messaging by telling his matches that he is planning on deleting his Tinder account:
What I’ve increasingly been doing is like use Tinder for a while, maybe like a period of weeks,
and then like say to everyone that I’ve matched with ‘I’m gonna delete it can I have your
number?’ and then I’ll delete it or I’ll just delete them. They’ll think that you deleted it because
you unmatched them but you didn’t, you’re still on it, but that’s the way that they no longer
know how often you’re on it.
This strategic management of visibility hides Tim’s use of the platform from his various
matches, so as to conceal the fact that he is still seeking other women on the app. It is also
an example of strategic ‘gaming’ that can take place as a result of the affordances provided
by the technology. Indeed, Tim’s tactical usage highlights that dating apps are both intermediaries and sites of strategic interaction. This too is an area in need of further research.
The broadened social network also taps into the efficiency afforded by Tinder in allowing people with busy lives to pursue partners without having to devote much extra time
or energy. Alexander noted that ‘it’s a good way to connect people, especially in large
cities in today’s environment where people do you know work pretty hard’. Tim said that
his use of Tinder over other apps was due to the fact that people on the app ‘don’t mess
around’ and that the mobile nature of the app – ‘the fact that it’s on a phone as opposed
to a computer’ – made it an easy-to-use platform. For Leigh, a 31-year-old lesbian, dating apps are an imperative technology for navigating the contemporary dating scene. The
key benefits for Leigh concern choice, efficiency and control. As someone with a busy
life, Leigh values being able to find a potential partner with a minimum of effort. When
asked whether she would prefer to meet a new romantic partner via the use of an app or
in a more traditional ‘chance’ encounter she responded: ‘It doesn’t matter any more…. I
find apps easier…. It’s more time-efficient.’ She also suggests that people who are not
using the apps are doing themselves a disservice:
I think it limits their dating opportunities…. I think dating via applications is so accessible and
so easily done with not as much effort required [and] those people are expending unnecessary
effort to go to bars when they could just do it in bed at night or sitting on the couch watching TV.
Leigh’s views on the benefits of dating apps were also reflected in the survey data. As
was noted above, 66% of respondents agreed with the statement ‘mobile dating apps
allow me to control my romantic and/or sexual encounters’.
Journal of Sociology 53(2)
Tinder, like other social media platforms, affords mutual visibility and can thus be
conceptualised as an architecture of social surveillance (Westcott and Owen, 2013). A
period of conversation facilitated through the use of Tinder allows some users to engage
in a process of building trust prior to meeting in person. Amy expressed a disdain for
people who used the app to chat to people ‘for weeks at a time’ without then moving into
an in person meeting: ‘I was, like, I’ll chat to you for you know a week if that means that
I’m gonna meet you in person, because otherwise it just seemed like such a waste of
time.’ Leigh felt that dates arising from apps were:
generally more compatible because I generally won’t go on dates with people that aren’t
compatible on more than [just] a physical level. I think the difference between meeting someone
in real life and meeting someone online is that you can get a sense of who they are and what
they’re about online prior to meeting them.
Self-commodification and self-branding
Users also spoke of competences of use, and especially in relation to practices of selfbranding. Social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook have been analysed in
terms of user practices of self-branding and the commodification of the self (Bauman,
2007; Hearn, 2008; Marwick, 2013), while pre-internet dating advertisements have also
been analysed in terms of Giddens’ (1991) concerns regarding self-commodification and
the interpolation of market dynamics in practices of self-construction (Coupland, 1996).
Similarly participants in this study had a commodified understanding of the self. They
acknowledged the need to engage in self-branding activities to market themselves as
desirable commodities in a crowded relationship marketplace – a process of self-stylisation for self-transformation (Foucault, 1988).
For example, Tim, a 24-year-old heterosexual, discussed the ways in which the creation of a Tinder profile required – in his estimation – various techniques and competences that would make the profile stand out and exhibit the user as desirable. Tim
boasted of helping a friend to redesign his Tinder profile because it was not receiving any
interest from prospective partners:
He’s in my student housing and he’s like ‘Man, I don’t I don’t have much success on Tinder.’
So I ask ‘Can I look at your profile and can I change it for you?’ So I get him a different picture
and I make his profile his ‘buyer’ – he didn’t have a buyer. I made his profile a buyer, and said
‘You can always go back’ and it blew up! It was almost like in the movies.
Tim’s use of the term ‘buyer’ denotes a sales technique designed to encourage other
Tinder users to ‘buy’ the profile. This is an explicit recognition of self-branding techniques and supports Bauman’s (2007: 6) arguments on the commodification of identity.
Similarly, Josh, a 28-year-old heterosexual, discussed his amusement or disdain on
encountering other people’s profiles that he felt were lacking in the competences required
for the successful presentation of self on Tinder:
Whenever I use it I just have so much fun laughing at how some people think some things are
a good idea … things like … can I just say it bluntly? I don’t mean to be rude but if you’re fat
you have head shots where you sought of turn so you get like a jawline. If you’re fit but ugly
Hobbs et al.
you have like wide shots, or at the beach with sunglasses and a hat pulled down. If you’re fat
and ugly you hide in a group shot.
Alice also discussed the issue of selecting a suitable profile photo: ‘you try and pick the
best photos of you … we’ve all got this idea of ourselves and it is marketing’.
Amy felt the need to engage in the self-branding technique of ‘edited authenticity’
(Marwick, 2013) when creating her Tinder profile so as to not exclude herself from
potential partners:
One strategy for me was probably like making a conscious decision not to have any extra
information. From a strategic sort of point of view the more I say about myself on the profile
the more likely I am to alienate certain people who I might actually click with but who are
saying ‘She likes this band? Well I hate that band so she can fuck off.’ And then I guess a couple
of my photos I wanted them to have friends in them so you could see that I had friends and I
wasn’t you know a loner, and also didn’t wanna have any selfies because I wanted them to
reflect that I hopefully wasn’t, you know, super vain or caught up in appearances too much.
Similarly, Alexander observed that his profile was ‘brief, so I wouldn’t say it’s, you
know, a complete picture of who I am as a person, but that’s fine too, it doesn’t have to
be … that’s why you’re supposed to meet up and have a conversation I guess.’
The exploratory findings offered by this study suggest that users of dating apps view
them as welcome intermediaries in the search for companionship, love, sex and intimacy.
Unlike the argument advanced by Bauman, dating apps and internet dating more broadly
are not ‘liquefying’ ideals like romantic love, monogamy or a commitment to longerterm relationship. Indeed, the data suggest that a majority of individuals continue to
value and seek these social phenomena, and are merely using the technology as a means
to pursue meaningful partnerships. This study’s participants felt they have more romantic and relationship possibilities than previous generations, and that the technologies give
them greater agency with regard to pursuing and meeting potential lovers and companions. The concept of ‘networked individualism’ (Rainie and Wellman, 2012) is readily
applicable to studies of app-enabled dating/hook-up practices as individuals become
responsible for, and exercise control over, their life-chances within a broadened social
network environment. For those living in urban areas, their smartphones are allowing
them access to an extensive network of romantic possibilities. Only with time will we see
whether this seductive network of romantic possibility has a gradual cultural influence
on people’s desire to commit to long-term monogamous relationships – an area for future
longitudinal research.
What is clear is that not everyone is deriving the same experiences from the technology.
As noted above, a small number of survey participants felt like they were missing out on
intimate experiences as it was ‘only the attractive people’ who were able to harness the full
spectrum of possibilities offered by the network. Likewise, some participants indicated that
they felt that the interactions afforded by the technology were somewhat superficial in that
they were based mostly on profile photos, which could not provide a fair account of a
Journal of Sociology 53(2)
person’s personality. Others were concerned that dating apps reduced people to commodities
in a marketplace of romantic options and that exchanges were too strategic. And yet these
same concerns can clearly be applied to ‘real-world’ sites of seduction and courtship, as many
strangers begin a conversation based solely on physical attraction and subsequently engage in
the strategic ‘presentation of self’ to convey a desirable impression (Ansari, 2015; Goffman,
Despite concerns about strategic and inauthentic behaviour, the majority of this
study’s participants believed that the technology merely enhanced their desires and
abilities to find a date or suitable life partner. Indeed, dating apps provide a ‘network
of intimacy’ that dramatically enhances the user’s social capital and further enhances
what Giddens called ‘plastic sexuality’. These networks of romantic possibility
enhance a person’s capacity to find a partner with whom to build a mutually fulfilling relationship and continue the trend towards the ‘pure relationship’ (Giddens,
1991). Networked intimacy is, then, about flirting, courtship and the ongoing search
for love and fulfilment via dating apps and smartphones. It brings new freedoms,
opportunities and pleasures, as well as old and new anxieties about risk, self-image
and love.
This research was funded by a research grant from the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, the
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Author biographies
Mitchell Hobbs, PhD, is Lecturer in Media and Public Relations in Department of Media and
Communications at the University of Sydney. He writes about media power, social media and
political communication. He is currently leading research projects on dating apps and their social
consequences, as well as studies on communication power and the politics of climate change.
Stephen Owen, PhD, is a Lecturer at the University of New South Wales. His doctoral thesis analysed Facebook use from a Foucauldian-inspired perspective, researching the ways in which social
media operates as an architecture of surveillance and as a ‘technology of the self’.
Livia Gerber, MA, is completing her PhD in sociolinguistics at Macquarie University, Australia,
and is a research assistant in the Department of Media and Communications at the University of
Sydney. Her research is broadly concerned with language, culture and power.

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ou t Worked
in his 2015
Fraught Intimacies: Non/Monogamies in the } 00 ~
Sphere,notes the potential of “queer or queer d ub/ic
· ·
· h 1ps
· between sister- or coe sexual
or 1ntimate
re 1anons
He cites a 2008 ethnography of a British Col b:
um ta
. Bountl “ful, m
. which two pol
M ormon community,
· wives
” marr1e
. d eac h o th er using
· Canada’s sam
sex marriage legislation.” The two women “consid;r
themselves life partners, although they have never
explicitly discussed whether their relationship has a
sexual component.”
Rec_ognizing possibilitjes of other kinds of inti._. m.acies-11ot focuse _d on biological reproduction and
p_qpul~tion, . but caretaking precious kin tha~
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