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This thesis is a critical exploration into the mobile application Grindr and how it rhetorically constitutes its users and their experience of queer spaces. Recently, researchers from a variety of disciplines have displayed increased scholarly interest in Grindr. Despite this much needed attention, few studies before this thesis have examined Grindr’s material structure—its interface, scripts, and other design features—as rhetorical and worthy of analysis. I document and interrogate my own experiences as a user of the application, adding a humanistic perspective to current conversations about Grindr to demonstrate one potential approach to critiquing mobile media that extends the “field” of rhetorical field methods to include the digital. I investigate how Grindr individualizes and channels one’s involvement with queer communities and desire by quite literally constructing gay users as the center of queer spaces that were once exclusively physical and communal.
In addition to studying the static, material structures of Grindr, I explore how Grindr provides resources to challenge (homo)normativity. I argue Grindr’s promiscuous mobility and relatively easy access offer queer men new opportunities for passing that exceed the homonormative confinements built into the application. Reviving Douglas Crimp’s (1987) efforts to reclaim promiscuity, I example how the word is a useful heuristic that illuminates forms of movement like passing that remain understudied since the “mobilities turn.” Through vignettes recounting my Grindr experience, I highlight five aspects of movement potentially silenced when mobility is taken as a dominant perspective over promiscuity. Though Grindr allows greater access to promiscuity than previous queer spaces, it still possesses limitations. Thus, I conclude this thesis by putting my analysis of Grindr into action. By reimagining Grindr through a framework Gehl (2015) labels “critical reverse engineering,” I propose pragmatic changes to the coding of the application that, if enacted, may address many of this project’s critiques and make Grindr a more just “queer world” for its users.
Advisor: Carly S. Woods