Current Projects

1. Gender and queer politics in the emerging dating app culture in China [monograph; contract under MIT Press]

Momo, Tantan, Blued, Aloha, Rela, Lesdo. These are some of the most popular mobile dating apps in China today. In Beyond Hookups, I offer a comprehensive account of dating app use among straight and queer, female and male Chinese urbanites. I argue that dating apps are not merely a platform for seeking romance or hooking up, but also, and more importantly, an arena where gender and queer politics manifest anew.

Drawing from an interdisciplinary body of literature on gender, queer, and technology studies, I foreground the interpretations of dating app users and examine how dating app users make use of the affordances of the technologies specific to their social position. Based on in-depth interviews with dating app users in Guangzhou, a major city in southern China, I document the opportunities and challenges dating apps have presented for women’s empowerment and for men’s reclamation of their gender-based privilege. I also analyze the affects and affordances unique to queer dating app users, linking their experiences of using dating apps with the predicaments they face as sexual minorities in China. I propose “networked sexual publics” as a unifying concept to capture the dynamics of the emerging dating app culture and suggests ways for scholars and students to further investigate this global phenomenon.

As the first book-length monograph on this topic, Beyond Hookups is an invaluable contribution to media and communication studies, science and technology studies, gender and queer studies, and Chinese studies.

An earlier version of a chapter of this book has been published in Communication, Culture, and Critique.

2. Political orientation and dating app use

In selecting a romantic partner, we often take into consideration our potential partner’s values. From March 2019, Hong Kong society has been divided into the so-called “yellow ribbons” and “blue ribbons.” “Yellow” stands for anti-establishment/Chinese government/Hong Kong police force while “blue” stands for pro-establishment/Chinese government/Hong Kong police force. How does this political divide affect dating app use and dating preference? Through in-depth interviews with dating app users across the political spectrum, I am looking at various self-presentation and uncertainty reduction strategies on and through dating apps.

3. Sexual racism on gay dating apps

I am part of an interdisciplinary collaborative project team with researchers in the U.S. and Australia to examine the prevalence of sexual racism on gay dating apps. In this study, we are examining self-reported racial preferences and behavioral racial preferences among American and Australian men on Jack’d, a popular gay dating app which positions itself as eminently inclusive. Self-reported racial preferences are those found directly on users’ profiles. Behavioral racial preferences are accessed through the app’s “insight” feature. We wrote a Python scraping code to collect this “insight” data from around 700 users in Los Angeles and 400 users in Sydney. Findings suggest that while expressions of racial preferences and non-preferences on Jack’d profiles were generally uncommon, in both locations positive racial preferencing (e.g., “into Black & Mixed Guys”) was more prevalent than non-preferencing (e.g., “No Asians”) and users’ behavioral racial preferences exhibited different but equally systematic patterns. Taken together, we argue that these findings have implications for the ways that dating apps in the gay men’s market approach the challenges of developing inclusive services.

4. The rise of Blued, the Chinese world gay dating app

Blued, a Beijing-based gay dating app, is now the world’s largest dating app for gay men. In this project, I am working with a researcher in China. Unlike most dating apps studies that focus on the users, we adopt a production studies approach. Informed by science and technology studies, sociology of organization, cultural studies of media industries, and queer studies, we are exploring the political, economic, technological, and cultural forces underlying the success of Blued. Our main research methods are ethnography, interviews, and archival research. Two papers have been published from this project.

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