Appnography: Queering Digital Ethnography for an App-Based World

Tuesday, 17 July 2018: 16:00
Oral Presentation
Harrison OAKES, University of Waterloo, Canada
Luc COUSINEAU, University of Waterloo, Canada
Corey JOHNSON, University of Waterloo, Canada
More than 3 million users log in to Grindr daily (Grindr, n.d.) and more than 10 billion user matches have been made on Tinder (Tinder Inc., 2017). Though relatively new to the technological scene, geo-social networking applications (GSNAs) like Grindr and Tinder have quickly become a locus in the social lives of their users. Despite their prevalence, however, relatively little work has examined their implications for users and social cultures (especially beyond sexual minority men). This dearth of research on GSNA use belies the many rich opportunities for novel theorizing and insights into human behavior that we believe GSNAs offer. To address this lack of research, we draw on queer theory to inform our articulation of appnography, a new digital ethnography that eschews a digital/“real” divide and is a robust and appropriate way to undertake the study of GSNAs.

Borrowing from Pink and colleagues (2016), theories on the multiplicity of subjectivities (Pavlidis & Fullagar, 2013) and the queering of digital spaces (Keeling, 2014; Lupton, 2015), we argue that an appnography of GSNAs must: (a) incorporate the many ways users intersect and interface with the digital; (b) be transparent and reflexive about the how and why of the appnographic project, and the communication with and involvement of participants; and (c) acknowledge the non-centrality of the digital spaces or media objects within the appnographic study, recalling the intersections of individual, social, technological, personal, and public that interpolate the user. We explore these elements of appnography from a queer theoretical perspective as we seek to understand (a) the overlay of physical and virtual spaces, exposing the false dichotomy of digital/“real”; (b) user profiles; and (c) the digital space and place of GSNA interactions. This exploration will create a set of guideposts others can utilize when planning and conducting appnographies of GSNAs.