Toward a Sociology of “Grindr”

–Cross-posted on Social (In)Queery


Apps like Grindr have really changed the ways gay men can interact in public.  I’ve heard Grindr described in different ways, but it—and apps like it—are often talked about as “gay GPS.”  They’ll tell you, based on your current location, who in your vicinity is also on the App.  As with Myspace, Facebook and other social networking sites, Grindr became popular among a diverse group of gay, bi, and curious men, prompting some groups to remain, while others migrate to different digital spaces.  The most recent I saw marketed is which is clearly being marketed as a space for those looking for a gay digital space devoid of what are framed at as the less savory elements of Grindr culture.

A541245_214374312026457_1008125747_ns they put it, is “prettier and less sketchy.”  Organizing themselves around more than just Grindr’s “who, specifically around me is gay” approach, also tells users about where local “hot spots” are (locations with a critical mass of users).  So, while Grindr’s ploy has been to market the sheer volume of users it has, is framed in a way that suggests fewer users–a smaller, elite collection of the “right” kind of gay men.

How these apps are marketed (i.e., who they’re “intended to be used by,” who they’re hoping to dissuade from use, and precisely what the app states as it’s intended use) illustrates racialized, classed, and gender-presentational tensions and dynamics at work in organizing gay men’s public erotic lives. (left) doesn’t state this explicitly, but it seems intended to be used by a more economically and culturally elite group of (primarily) white, young, gay men.  Conversely, Grindr (right) is presented as more of a free-for-all of younger gay men of all different races and classes.

Adam Isaiah Green’s theorization of sexual fields and erotic capital is a great analytical tool to discuss these social spaces that occupy that fuzzy terrain between the digital and physical.  “Sexual fields” refer to spaces within which a specific set of “erotic capital” are understood to have purchase.  Green defines erotic capital in this way: “the quality and quantity of attributes that an individual possesses, which elicit an erotic response in another” (here: 29).  So, a constellation of physical, emotional, sensual, and aesthetic elements of identity are at play in this definition.  Yet, like Bourdieu’s conceptualization of cultural capital—and similar to my theorization of gender capital—how much erotic capital one has depends on the field one occupies.  Green conceptualizes sexual fields—within Bourdieu’s theoretical framing of “fields”—as “semiautonomous arenas” (here: 26).  By this he is arguing that they are the social spaces defined by the erotic capital understood to have purchase.

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