Summary of the Marie Bergström's PhD thesis

The Dating Deal. Sexuality, class and gender relations in the production and use of dating sites in France
Thesis supervisor:  Michel Bozon (INED)

Online dating is a widespread phenomenon in France today as well as an important topic of debate. Based on original empirical research, interweaving qualitative and quantitative methods, this thesis offers a sociological understanding of these sites.

By first examining the production of dating sites, the thesis shows how a new economic market has been established – the dating market – whose different logics are then analysed. In particular, the high degree of standardisation of these platforms, as well as the more recent spread of specialised sites, are seen as characteristics of a developing market. Dating site use within the heterosexual population is then examined through an analysis of the different modes of appropriation – social and sexual – of the sites, as well as the structure of resulting relations. In so doing, the investigation reveals that although these sites do foster romantic encounters, they seldom result in couple formation, favouring instead a non-conjugal heterosexuality. The privacy afforded by online dating, external and unbeknownst to one’s social circle, contributes to this. Whilst the use of information technologies is typically associated with increasing public exposure of intimate life, dating sites thus have the opposite effect of rendering sexual sociability more private. This characteristic of the sites allows for a larger degree of freedom in the expression of sexuality, particularly for women; however, it does not circumvent the sexual double standard that structures heterosexual relations, on the Internet as elsewhere.

In fine, dating sites offer a promising vantage point from which to observe recent transformations of sexuality, conjugality and gender relations. Understood as a ‘strategic research site’, they shed new light on the way in which men and women enter into intimate relations in a context characterised by the diversification of sexual practices and norms.

Article updated on 19-09-2014
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