What Happens When You Unleash Social Theory on OKCupid

Jan 08, 2014 • Philosophy

unleashing social theory on OKCupid

A recovering sociology major uses the dating site OKCupid to illustrate social theory, with hilarious results. Beginning with Pierre Bourdieu and how we rank one another based on our likes, to Herbert Mead’s social self, and right on through to Walter Benjamin’s ‘here and now,’ Alyce Currier effectively turns the drudgery of online dating into something fun and worthwhile exploring once again:

OkCupid’s choice to include an explicit section for book, music, movie and other tastes on their profile pages seems not only to encourage members of the site to list their own tastes, but also to put a heavy emphasis on taste in our search for suitable partners. And yet some of the healthiest relationships I know are between people whose tastes are vastly different.

Nearly-identical tastes seem to be most problematic in moments where small differences between those tastes become evident. Bourdieu highlights this in relation to the bourgeoisie and the petit bourgeoisie, as well as between the petit bourgeoisie and the proletariat. What’s at play here is something akin to Freud’s narcissism of small differences: the idea that more similar groups are more likely to feel greater hostility towards one another:

“I once discussed the phenomenon that is precisely communities with adjoining territories, and related to each other in other ways as well, who are engaged in constant feuds and in ridiculing each other — like the Spaniards and Portuguese, for instance, the North Germans and South Germans, the English and Scotch, and so on. I gave this phenomenon the name of “the narcissism of minor differences”, a name which does not do much to explain it. We can now see that it is a convenient and relatively harmless satisfaction of the inclination to aggression, by means of which cohesion between the members of the community is made easier.” (Freud, Civilization and its Discontents)

Header image by Garry Knight.