Online Dating. Mediated Communication between Romantic Love and Economic Rationalization

Project funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF)
Kai Dröge, sociologist and researcher; Olivier Voirol, maître assistant UNIL (applicant)

For many groups in society, online dating has become part of their everyday repertoire of partner seeking strategies. As a result, the public as well as the scientific interest in this phenomenon has grown significantly.
Generally speaking, the present research on this topic can be divided into two broad categories: At first, studies analyze the specific forms of intimacy, mutual self-disclosure and emotionality that emerge online. Here, the internet appears as a convenient place for romantic interactions, even as a kind of ‘neoromantic media’ that reanimates certain classic virtues from the cultural ideal of love that might have been lost in the world outside the net. A second body of work analyzes online dating primarily as a new tool to enhance the efficiency and rationality in the process of couple formation. In this kind of research, rational choice theory and the classic concepts from the economics of the marriage market are especially prominent.
But, however, it is widely unclear how these different competing logics – the ideal of romantic love on the one hand, the principals of efficiency and economic rationality on the other – are actually interwoven in the practice of online dating and how people deal with the contradictions and ambivalences that may appear as a result. In addressing these topics, the project aims at making an innovative contribution to the international discussion about new forms of dating on the internet and the change of the social patterns of couple formation in general.
One reason for the research deficit described above is the fact that most present research relies on either the statistical analysis of online interactions or on standardized opinion surveys addressing general attitudes towards online dating. As a result, we have little information about the actual experiences and practices in online dating and how they are embedded in everyday life. Hence, our research uses qualitative methods focused exactly on these aspects. This helps, at first, to trace practical problems and contractions that appear as a result of the competing logics outlined above. Secondly, this makes the research interesting for the sociology of mediated communication in general because it sheds light on the challenges of the transition between on- and offline world. Finally, the analysis can also be seen as an interesting contribution to the current debate on the ‘marketization’ or ‘economization’ of interpersonal relationships – a public as well as scientific debate that addresses the relations between love and the market, intimacy and strategic action, emotions and economic rationality in our society on a more general level.

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