Communication Hook-Up and Dating Apps
by
Stefanie Duguay, Élise Ross-Nadié
  • LAST MODIFIED: 30 October 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756841-0240

Introduction

Hook-up apps are a relatively recent form of digitally mediated dating. They are apps—software programs configured for a specific purpose—that play a role in sociotechnical arrangements of hooking up—finding a partner for dating or sexual activity. While they are often used for a variety of purposes, from meeting friends to political campaigning, hook-up apps are generally framed or perceived as being associated with romantic and sexual relationships. Hook-up apps feature in a long lineage of analogue and digital tools that have mediated dating, from the telegraph to early online dating websites. This history is reflected in enduring moral panics about how such tools may affect society, such as whether or not they threaten the formation of long-term relationships. This history is also apparent in longstanding scholarly investigations into the nuances of how the different affordances of such technologies shape self-presentation, intimacy, communities, and social inequalities. These inquiries endure in today’s studies of hook-up apps. Digital technology has been pivotal in helping marginalized populations to find each other and, particularly, in how lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer individuals have connected through chatrooms, websites, and contemporary apps. Early hook-up apps popular with gay men, such as Grindr, ushered in the eventual proliferation of hook-up apps marketed to wider populations. Notably, hook-up apps are designed to function on mobile devices, with the smartphone’s rapid uptake enabling partner-seeking anywhere and anytime as these apps have become integrated into daily life. They rely on geolocational data, enabling users to check out prospective partners nearby, to arrange meet-ups when traveling, or to access informational resources when settling into a new country. However, their use on personal devices and the intimate nature of users’ exchanges also pose new hurdles for research methods and practices. Hook-up apps function within the information age’s broader political economy of datafication, data surveillance, and technology-driven profit-making. While they introduce new opportunities for social connection, their affordances and user practices can also re-create and reinforce existing forms of gender and racial discrimination. As apps that overlay digital and physical spaces, their use is fully enmeshed in surrounding cultural, social, political, and economic contexts. With these multiple factors in mind, this bibliography presents resources for understanding hook-up apps from perspectives largely situated within communications and cultural studies. While presented according to dominant themes, several entries address multiple aspects of hook-up apps and present a range of findings that are relevant across categories.

General Overviews and Background

Hook-up apps appear in scholarly research anthologies, books, and articles in relation to the contemporary cultural contexts of intimacy, technology, and relationships. Background studies of shifting sexual and dating practices provide a means for understanding the conditions of hook-up culture and dating, in which apps have come to play a pivotal role. Bogle 2008 provides an in-depth look at how partner-seeking has changed on university campuses in the United States, while Watson, et al. 2017 reviews the research (or lack thereof) about the shifting hook-up practices of lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth. The edited collection Aggleton, et al. 2018 explores a range of changes to young people’s sexual practices, including their uptake of digital technologies, which are navigated through sexual citizenship. Duguay, et al. 2017 traces the historical continuity from older technologies to today’s hook-up apps, while Mowlabocus 2010 and Gudelunas 2012 draw similar connections with regard to gay men’s adoption of hook-up apps. Reviewing gay dating app studies, Wu and Ward 2018 identifies overarching themes emerging with regard to the role of hook-up apps in gay men’s lives. Smith 2016 provides key findings from the Pew Research Center that indicate a rapid rise in hook-up app adoption among online Americans. While not limited to apps, the edited collection Degim, et al. 2015 demonstrates how digitally mediated dating and partner-seeking differs across cultural contexts.

  • Aggleton, P., R. Cover, D. Leahy, D. Marshall, and M. L. Rasmussen. 2018. Youth, sexuality and sexual citizenship. London: Routledge.

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    This collection provides a foundation for critically thinking through many of the themes that arise in hook-up app literature regarding young people and intimacy, relationships, self-presentation, participation, inclusion, and privacy. The concept of sexual citizenship is explored throughout, understanding young people as engaging with sociotechnical life in ways that can be both risky and beneficial.

  • Bogle, K. A. 2008. Hooking up: Sex, dating, and relationships on campus. New York and London: New York Univ. Press.

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    Through in-depth interviews with American college students, this book identifies shifts in young people’s practices relating to dating and sexuality. It acknowledges social and cultural influences that have contributed to recent increases in youth engagement in casual sexual relationships.

  • Degim, I. A., J. Johnson, and T. Fu. 2015. Online courtship: Interpersonal interactions across borders. Amsterdam: Institute of Network Cultures.

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    This edited collection brings together multiple perspectives and methodologies to understand digitally mediated dating across several cultural and national contexts. Its chapters address the role of dating websites and apps in relation to varying politics, economic conditions, histories, and cultural conventions across countries.

  • Duguay, S., J. Burgess, and B. Light. 2017. Mobile dating and hookup app culture. In Digital media: Transformations in human communication. 2d ed. Edited by P. Messaris and L. Humphreys, 213–221. New York: Peter Lang.

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    This chapter situates hook-up apps within the historical context of mediated dating. The authors recognize how many longstanding moral panics about sex and technology are applied to contemporary apps. They discuss ways of analyzing apps to situate them as sociocultural media objects.

  • Gudelunas, D. 2012. There’s an app for that: The uses and gratifications of online social networks for gay men. Sexuality & Culture 16.4: 347–365.

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    This article provides an understanding of how hook-up apps feature within gay men’s broader history of communication and culture. It draws on findings from interviews and focus groups to identify gay men’s motivations and perceived benefits of dating apps, making sense of these within a uses-and-gratifications framework.

  • Mowlabocus, S. 2010. Gaydar culture: Gay men, technology and embodiment in the digital age. Farnham, UK: Ashgate.

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    This pivotal book traces the intertwining of gay men’s subculture and digital practices in the United Kingdom. The author’s concept of “cybercarnality” makes sense of how gay men’s subculture has become simultaneously physical and digital. The book examines gay dating websites, cybercottage forums that facilitate cruising, and more recent locative technologies to understand them within the cultural and historical context of gay men’s lives.

  • Smith, A. 2016. 15% of American adults have used online dating sites or mobile dating apps. Washington, DC: Pew Research Center.

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    The Pew Research Center has been collecting survey data about Americans’ use of online dating websites and apps for several years. This latest report identifies increases in uptake since their 2013 survey, indicating a rapid spread of dating app use among young people.

  • Watson, R. J., S. Snapp, and S. Wang. 2017. What we know and where we go from here: A review of lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth hookup literature. Sex Roles 77:801–811.

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    Although the literature about dating apps includes many studies concerning gay men, this broader overview of literature about young people’s hook-up research reveals that it is generally focused on heterosexual youth. The sexual and relationship practices of lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth are often overlooked in studies focusing on heterosexual college students, warranting more research into this area as a foundation for better understanding hook-up app practices.

  • Wu, S., and J. Ward. 2018. The mediation of gay men’s lives: A review on gay dating app studies. Sociology Compass 12.2: 1–10.

    DOI: 10.1111/soc4.12560E-mail Citation »

    Given the proliferation of studies about gay men’s use of dating apps, this article provides a thematic review of existing literature. It identifies major themes within these studies, including the role of dating apps within gay men’s self-presentation and interactions, community, and interpersonal relationships. The authors call for future research about how dating apps affect gay men’s sociability as well as greater technical comparison and examination of dating apps.

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