Yifeng Cai

Grant Type

Dissertation Fieldwork Grant

Institutional Affiliation

Brown U.

Grant number

Gr. 9803

Approve Date

April 30, 2019

Project Title

Cai, Yifeng (Brown U.) "Mediated Moralities of Exchange: Apps, Intimacy, and Money among Gay Men in Urban China"

In urban China, sex and money are constantly exchanged among gay men through geosocial apps, such as dating apps, but not necessarily seen as sex work. For example, some gay men charge money for sex through dating apps for “fun.” NGO activists use dating apps to reach out to male sex workers, offering free HIV-testing services but also buying sex from them. All this is understood by these activists as “gay comradeship.” On geosocial apps, group chat participants exchange money to initiate/sustain erotic relationships and consider it “normal socializing.” It appears that geosocial apps engender new moralities of exchange among gay men in urban China, producing new meanings of intimacy, money, and new ways intimacy and money relate. This 12-month ethnographic project in Shanghai, using participant observation, interviews, online text research, and app-study methods from communication and media studies, asks: What are Chinese gay men’s moral experiences of intimate-monetary exchange, as mediated by geosocial apps? This project will result in the first book-length ethnography on the relationship between apps, intimacy, and money in China and elsewhere. Ultimately, this project critically rethinks what constitutes intimacy, what money means and does, and what varying relationships between intimacy and money exist.