EASA2016: Anthropological legacies and human futures

Public and private redrawn: geosocial sex and the offline [ENQA]
Location U7-12
Date and Start Time 22 July, 2016 at 09:00
Sessions 1


  • Matthew McGuire (Cambridge) email
  • Michael Connors Jackman (Memorial University of Newfoundland) email

Mail All Convenors

Discussant Dr Shaka McGlotten

Short Abstract

This panel will explore in a global context the reconstitution by geosocial cruising technologies of two sets of oppositions-online/offline and public/private- to deal with the co-constitution of sexual lifeworlds at the interface of geosociality and physicality.

Long Abstract

This panel will ask how public and private realms are being reconstituted, complicated or multiplied with the rise of geosocial cruising. Core here is a connection of two debates concerned with the relationship between opposing spheres: public/private and online/offline. Sex in public is commonly framed as a social problem, a transgression of moral and legal codes that works to undermine social order and to erode the moral fabric of society (Berlant and Warner 1998). As such, the boundaries of clean and unclean come to be policed as though sex in public were 'matter out of place' (Douglas 1966), even where desire figures centrally in the structuring of social relationships and in the maintenance of social order.

Scholars have suggested that geosocial technologies are complicating the relationship between private and public, leading to redistributions of intimacy and relationality (e.g., McGlotten 2013, Mowlabocus 2010, Muñoz 2009, Race 2015). In this context, what counts as 'public sex' is often unclear, and this implies a very different configuration of space, where the online/offline and public/private are multiply layered and constituted. Few have recoursed to transformations of public space in the context of the growth in new technologies. However, we assert that it is only by attending to how these technologies are woven into the physical world--through materialities, analogies or as transecting spaces-- that we can assess how they redefine queer socialities and redraw the boundaries of sexual publics.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.


"No asiatici, no cinesi": defining ethnic boundaries in MSM dating apps and the experience of Asian gay men in Milan

Author: Massimo Modesti (Independent Researcher)  email

Short Abstract

In MSM dating apps, some Asian gay/bisexual men living in Western countries, experience refusal and fetishisation because of their ethnicity. I tried to understand how they perceive and give sense to ethnic boundaries and to sexual racism comparing their online with offline experience in Milan.

Long Abstract

In globalising and transnational contexts, hegemonic culture has contributed to the reproduction of boundaries, identities and categories not only in offline spaces, but also - and perhaps more strongly - in online spaces. In male gay community, online dating has been used from the beginning of the internet era: it assumed an important role in connecting people and created a parallel virtual world.

Forty years after the beginning of mass migrations to Italy, an emerging group of gay/bisexual people with migrant backgrounds is part of life in many Italian towns. Particularly in Milan, their presence is evident on gay dating apps and reflects quite accurately the national groups who have settled in town. They can be immigrants, children of immigrants or international students. In mainstream MSM dating apps - as PlanetRomeo - a certain quantity of sexual racism emerges, particularly against Asian people, and this has been confirmed also by them.

I explored the experience of a group of Asian gay/bisexual men and I tried to understand how they perceive and give sense to ethnic boundaries reproduced in online and offline spaces for MSM. Studies in United States and Australia have already raised the problem of sexual racism against Asian gay people, who are ironically on the opposite side of Black men in being refused or fetishised. I also tried to focus on the intersections between ethnicities and other stigmatised features in online dating and the interconnections between broader racism and sexual racism in online and offline gay spaces.

Cruising the village: secularisation, surveillance, and privacy in St. John's, Newfoundland

Author: Michael Connors Jackman (Memorial University of Newfoundland)  email

Short Abstract

This paper examines a series of recent historical and cultural shifts in St. John's, Newfoundland related to morality and LGBT tolerance, and in doing so addresses the relationship between secularisation and technology in the privatisation of sex and desire.

Long Abstract

In most parts of Canada, the growth of tolerance towards gays and lesbians and the adoption of values tied to liberal mutliculturalism have played key roles in reshaping where and how queer people meet one another. At the same time, practices of queer cruising have themselves changed with the rise of on-line dating and the global use of geosocial applications. In St. John's, Newfoundland, conceptions of privacy have long been set within and against expectations for moral conduct, whether enforced by the state or by religious officials. Though Newfoundland's position within Canada has been shaped by its geographical location and persisting attachments to a distinct cultural identity, it has neither been isolated from federal projects of liberal tolerance nor wholly invested in them.

The widespread use of dating and hook-up apps has contributed to the redefinition of boundaries of public and private. Though sex in spaces clearly designated as public has not entirely disappeared, the availability of acceptable modes of connection and widespread forms of queer visibility have forged new models for romantic and sexual connection, and with them new kinds of surveillance. On-line communication in particular has opened up a range of new options for queer sociality, yet has also foreclosed and/or privatised many others. This paper outlines a series of historical and cultural shifts in Newfoundland related to morality and LGBT tolerance, and in doing so addresses the relationship between secularisation and technology in the privatisation of desire.

Light and dark: geosocial cruising and Korean-Confucian relationality

Author: Matthew McGuire (Cambridge)  email

Short Abstract

I explore how Korean men understand geosocial applications as a space of all-consuming social connection and exposure, and compare their experiences online to their interaction in the socially invisible world of saunas, arguing that geosociality reintegrates men into everyday Korean relationality.

Long Abstract

In digital anthropology generally, and in studies of geosociality specifically, scholars are starting to (re)question the relationship between the offline and online. The structures and marketing principles of applications like Grindr suggest their purpose is to easily convert conversations with an expanded body of strangers into 'real world' sexual encounters. Rightly, scholars have suggested that this 'transformation' relies heavily on factors such as race, age, physique and the visibility of 'face pics', where the suggestion is that the materiality of bodies defines success in a competitive ecosystem of ideal types.

I argue that for many Korean men geosocial applications are more material and exposing than physical spaces used for cruising and casual sex. Geosocial spaces are not a space away from the problems of exposure, but enter men into a world of unfettered and all-consuming social connection. Saunas and 'sleeping rooms' provide places that are marginal to Korean-Confucian relational ethics, in their status as dark and socially invisible worlds that can be easily compartmentalised from both identity and the flow of everyday life. By contrast, geosociality is a cause for anxiety because it asks for commitment to visibility in a new kind of public, one where the physicality of the body needs to be proven and securing sex requires both emotional labour and a sacrifice of anonymity. I explore how Korean men responded to this imposing 'lightness' in trying to recreate the world of the sauna online, failing often in their intentions.

Public/private in sexy times: hook-up apps and information flows in Beirut

Author: Mathew Gagné (University of Toronto)  email

Short Abstract

From ethnographic data among queer men in Beirut, I explore how hook-up apps reform the public/private as a tension between public recognition of private sentiments, encompassing social practices of information exchange to control the degree to which one becomes known within social networks.

Long Abstract

Amidst expressions of desire, lust, and sex, 'ur pic first' is commonly written in the hook-app profiles of queer men in Beirut; meaning he who opens the conversation must first provide a face picture. This rule is a means of controlling knowledge of one's face and private sexual desires in a public network of users where one could be talking to his cousin, colleague, or classmate without knowing it. Hook-up apps are public media of intimate desires where men publicly express private sexual desire from anywhere, thereby increasing the risk of homophobic retribution in a contested culture of discretion. The tensions between the public and private become about public recognition of private sentiments, or the degree to which private sentiments become publicly known and circulated within dense online-offline social networks. Using ethnographic data, this paper explores how queer men in Beirut manage the public-private binary via social practices of information exchange. Information is exchanged according to conventions for controlling the circulation of information about their physical body, social standing, and offline life. Shared information, sometimes archived as screen shots, circulates among networks of friends, lovers, and acquaintances. This is the production of a social milieu convened by the flows and connections of information about users. The paper examines the milieu's exigencies for managing the degree to which one becomes ingratiated into its informational processes and having one's private desires become publicly known.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.