• Between Phallus and Freedom: An Ethnography on the Embodied Experiences of Tinder Users in Cape Town

    Leah Junck (see profile)
    Global Digital Humanities Symposium, Network for Digital Humanities in Africa
    Ethnology--Fieldwork, Identity (Psychology), Technology
    Item Type:
    University of Cape Town
    Dating, Racialization, Tinder, Ethnographic fieldwork, Gender and sexuality, Identity and technology
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    This presentation discusses whether the dating application Tinder and similarly organized applications reinforce rigid gender and other identities and addresses the potential of technologically enhanced selves to contest them. Notions of identity as well as aspects of power and agency in the context of dating apps are discussed by referring to ethnographic fieldwork conducted in Cape Town (South Africa), including semi-structured, in-depth interviews, life histories and participant observation. When using Tinder, individuals find themselves at a crossroads with fantasy meeting corporeality. My research chronicles the use of app technologies as tools for self-expression and empowerment – and as concurring with social norms. The fieldwork revealed that the pervasiveness of gender roles and other identity categories become perpetuated by dating apps the likes of Tinder. This is partially due to a lack of open discussion and carefulness in the process of unravelling and navigating the rules of the dating game whilst maintaining a sense of self that is not to be rendered more evaded by hurt, heartbreak, ghosting and a perceived loss of autonomy than it already is. However, those who break free from this hesitation and leave their comfort zone at least to degrees tend to narrate stories in which nuances of the self are discovered, thus adding to social scripts. This involves the transgression of particular and embodied gendered/racialized/classed roles and is not without hurdles and backlash. The continued search for desire and meaningfulness by tinderers despite these challenges and even after episodes of defeat and the deletion of apps can be interpreted as a move away from strict identity categories. Continued efforts to connect require an ability to understand oneself as fuzzy, complex and non-constant and to provide others with the opportunity to explore some of these facets of the self.
    Last Updated:
    4 years ago


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