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Poetics and politics of purpose: Understanding dating app users in Shanghai

Wong, Wei Mei (2022) Poetics and politics of purpose: Understanding dating app users in Shanghai. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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Dating apps burst into the courtship market in China around 2011 with the launch of Momo. Dating apps differed from their predecessors - marriage websites, matchmaking reality shows, online matchmakers - by branding themselves as sex apps. Riddled with controversy and condemnation by the central government, dating apps moved to rebrand themselves as love apps or social media. Through researching young Chinese’s experience from dating apps, this dissertation studies how young Chinese navigate dating relationships through exploring their romantic expectations, desires, and behaviors. In other words, the research looks at how young Chinese construct gender, sexuality, and a new dating culture — one that is influenced by the affordances of mobile technology like dating apps. By centering on the theme of “purpose,” I asked the following questions: What are young Chinese’ purposes for using dating apps? Are these purposes homogenous among dating apps users? What happens when the dating app’s purpose (facilitating meet-ups between potential lovers) is rendered obsolete during a pandemic quarantine? Based on 18-months of multi-sited fieldwork online and in Shanghai, I argue that appearing “anti-purposeful” or ambiguous on dating apps is part of the dating script within the dating app ecosystem. Secondly, I posit that dating app users searching for foreign partners are less concerned about appearing “purposeful” on dating apps. The search for a foreign partner is also heavily gendered within international dating dynamics. Finally, I argue that the pandemic quarantine has led to dating app users developing novel ways to still extract value from dating apps, even if it is not the dating apps’ intended use. More broadly, this dissertation interrogates the adaptiveness of digital artifact users, the tension between tradition and modernity, the non-homogenous nature of dating app users across geographical regions, and the importance of anthropological approaches to be considered beyond academia when trying to understand digital artifacts’ users.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Wong, Wei Meiwew76@pitt.eduwew76
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee ChairConstable,
Committee MemberHughes,
Committee MemberLukács,
Committee MemberWanderer,
Date: 6 June 2022
Date Type: Publication
Defense Date: 4 March 2022
Approval Date: 6 June 2022
Submission Date: 12 March 2022
Access Restriction: No restriction; Release the ETD for access worldwide immediately.
Number of Pages: 174
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences > Anthropology
Degree: PhD - Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Type: Doctoral Dissertation
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: dating, intimacy, dating apps, China, Shanghai, love, relationship
Date Deposited: 06 Jun 2022 15:55
Last Modified: 06 Jun 2022 15:55


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