Queering relationship quality: a feminist new materialist analysis of LGBTQ+ digital intimacies and relationship support technology

Tom Witney, Jacqui Gabb, Catherine Aicken, Salvatore Di Martino

Research output: Contribution to conferenceAbstractpeer-review


LGBTQ+ people are at the forefront of the digital dating revolution. From the bulletin board systems (BBS) of the 1980s to contemporary mobile apps such as Scruff, Grindr, Tinder, and HER – queer people have been the pioneers and early adopters of relationship technologies and remain more likely than heterosexual counterparts to use digital dating platforms. Conversely, long-established studies and scales of relationship quality remain largely removed from the heuristic of everyday life and the dynamic of contemporary queer relationships. Reliance upon social norms marginalize LGBTQ+ couples whose queer sexualities and diverse genders may not fit with the traditional tools of relationship science. We propose that a paradigm shift is required to sufficiently engage with the digital worlds of 21st century intimacies. Using feminist new materialism, we examine the want to revitalize the epistemology and ontology of relationship science. Heteronormativity and traditional ideas of the couple and coupledom are removed from the centre of the analytical equation. Using assemblage thinking and diffractive analysis we explore the functioning of a relationship support app, Paired. We examine the ways that relationship behaviours are manifested in and created through the human–technology assemblage. Relationship practices, routines and spaces are generated through user–relationship–app intra–actions, generating more–than–relationship quality. The affordances of the app thus make visible relationship forms that are not always culturally available. This engages with the contexts, processes, and affective forces through which alternative intimacies and LGBTQ+ relationship maintenance behaviours can emerge. Rather than othering sexual minorities and/or representing them as a divergent group, we demonstrate how feminist new materialist analysis can advance understandings of contemporary digital relationship landscapes in ways that more fruitfully engage with the lives and loves of LGBTQ+ people.


ConferenceEuropean Sociological Association Sexuality Research Network (RN23) mid-term conference
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