Mobile lovers: Affordances, spaces, and narrativization among dating app users in Berlin

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


Dating apps offer, or impose, depending on their context of use, a series of affordances. As a platform or medium, they open up or constrain certain social actions and practices. These affordances, and the technological devices they rely upon, exist through the relation between users and their environment, both in terms of physical spaces and cultural frameworks. Technologies are socialised and integrated into the everyday lives of research participants. The thesis is based on 13 months of ethnographic research focusing on Berlin dating app users aged between 20 and 33, primarily active on Tinder, Bumble, and OkCupid. As part of this fieldwork, 36 semi-structured interviews and 50 chat interviews were conducted with research participants.

Anchoring itself within the imagined environment of Berlin, the thesis explores how dating apps fit into the city’s unique dating culture and brand of intimacy. Taking a relational approach to users and technology, the thesis highlights how dating apps form a tool in the experiential narrativization of users’ romantic lives in the city. The thesis concludes that dating apps constitute one point of communication in a polymedia framework of intimate digital devices and platforms, operating as geolocational media within the city. As such, dating apps are integrated into dating practices and rituals that span city space and a culture of storytelling inherent to the way intimacy is experienced by users. The thesis posits that dating apps are woven into spatial practices and self-narrativization, constituting imagined communities for their users, as well as a canvas, alongside the city of Berlin, against which to characterise romantic experiences.

The thesis explores how users define the gap between the digital and “real life”, positing that technology is no longer the point of delineation between “real” and “virtual”, but rather the canvas upon which imagined negotiations of reality and virtuality, as well as practices of intimacy, play out.
Date of Award1 May 2023
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • King's College London
SupervisorRoberta Comunian (Supervisor) & Ruth Adams (Supervisor)

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