Research

I am a mixed-methods researcher, specializing in in-depth interviews and survey methodology. My research takes an interdisciplinary and transnational approach to study communication technology, gender, sexuality, and culture. Currently, I am pursuing three 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. 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 project, I am responsible for writing Python scraping codes. The project aims to provide solutions to ameliorate sexual racism on dating apps.

3. 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.

Completed project: US gay men’s use of dating apps

Before I commenced my PhD dissertation research in China, I was intrigued by the popularity of Grindr and many similar dating apps for gay men in the United States. I suggest the transition from industrial society to network society inevitably cultivates a new form of intimacy—the networked intimacy. Lee Rainie and Barry Wellman call the project of the self in the network society the “networked individualism.” The networked individuals rely heavily on their diverse social networks and make use of information technologies to manage these multiple relationships. In this light, networked intimacy can be conceptualized as an emerging form of intimate relationships that is enabled by the increased access to the Internet and the prevalence of mobile phones. In this project, I examined sex-seeking behaviors (surveys), self-representation (content analysis), as well as the nature of intimacy (in-depth interviews supplemented by surveys) on gay dating apps.

Published articles from this project: