Accepted Paper:

Queer technologies and rural world-making  


Jean Hardy (University of Michigan)

Paper short abstract:

Using ethnographic methods, I show how discourses of technological world-making deployed by evaluators and creators of mobile apps targeted at queer men distort their effect on queer lives. I argue that a rural LGBTQ world is enacted dynamically rather than dictated by designers.

Paper long abstract:

This paper explores how embodied knowledge, mobile applications for queer men, and spatiality are enacted in the world-making process of rural LGBTQ people. Drawing from ethnographic research in a rural region of the American Midwest, I show how queer sexuality is negotiated through a range of artifacts including software, bars, periodicals, festivals, and stories of belonging. I focus on contextualizing the use of location-based smartphone applications and their role in LGBT world-formation since their popularization in 2009.

Discourses used by mobile apps creators, queer theorists, researchers of people-nearby applications, and the popular press frequently assume an urban user and traffic in techno-determinist discourses regarding both how these apps are used and their cultural effects. Designers assume that these technologies will be used only in certain ways and critics believe that their use will lead to "the death of the gay bar." These discourses over-emphasize the role of queer technologies in modern gay life, offer a limited understanding of their place in LGBTQ culture, and mischaracterize how they are used by a wide variety of queer subjects.

In contrast, I argue that rural LGBTQ identity is enacted dynamically and that rural users employ these technologies in novel and unexpected ways. I draw on STS literatures on the co-construction of the user and synthesize Berlant & Warner's framework of "world-making" from queer theory and Donna Haraway's theory of "worlding" from feminist technoscience. In doing so, I offer a non-determinist view of these applications that centers processes of context-bound user interactions.

Panel T059
Making Worlds: Feminist STS and everyday technoscience