Cataloguing Bodies: Tribes on Grindr
In 2013, Grindr added a feature to its interface called ‘Tribes’, a function allowing users to select and list what tribe they identify with. While Grindr was not the first to do this, the app’s highly influential position deeply altered the way in which gay men interacted with each other online. These ‘tribes’ refer to a distinct and unique system of sub-cultures that exist within the gay community, formally dating back to the early 1980s with the genesis of the gay Bear, but can arguably be traced back to the early 20th century in North America and Britain. My study sought to examine how this system of sub-cultures exists on Grindr, the ways in which users integrate these identities into their offline realities, and how individuals embodied and approached tribal identity. Through interviewing 26 Grindr users, my study found that tribal identity is heavily influenced by the setting in which it occurs, has a propensity to Other individuals, is strongly linked to a kind of social visibility, is performed through various types of embodiment and presentation, and is viewed by many as an institutionalised system of marginalisation and discrimination. One of the key findings of my study was the way in which apps of Grindr’s ilk manufactured differing experiences of tribal identity, and through their targeted marketing, produced a digitalised commodification of bodies in direct relation to the set of tribes each app offered. The significance of these findings help to further elucidate the unique way in which gay men and MSM interact with digital media, the relationship between social network app designers and its users, and demonstrates the increasingly complex way that gay subjectivity is experienced.
About the Presenter
Simon recently finished his Honours in Sociology and is currently a tutor and research assistant, with ambitions to start a PhD next year, focusing on notions of wellbeing and risk among gay communities. He also dabbles in selling tea, and has a penchant for literature, psychoanalysis, and cultural studies.