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Forum on Relationships and the Internet: Advancing Theories, Methods and Practice

Date & Time:
09:00:00 - 17:30:00,
Monday 6 December, 2010


Research on the role of the Internet in meeting new people is an increasingly vital area of inquiry, and is illustrated by a burgeoning literature on such topics as online dating. However, the Internet may shape many other aspects of relationships beyond introducing individuals, such as in undermining or maintaining ongoing relationships, from courtship to marriage. This forum will look at the state of the art of academic research on relationships and the Internet and how this research informs research on the social aspects of the Internet in general.

This forum brings together researchers in the fields of online dating, social networking, and the role of information and communication technologies in interpersonal relationships with practitioners from a growing and international relationship industry and policy-makers concerned with consumer protection and media literacy in a digital age.





Welcome and introduction by Oxford Internet Institute, eHarmony and participants.


Session 1: Frontiers of online dating. The internet is not just about friends, publics or crowdsourcing, but is now an integral part of an individual’s most intimate relationships.

Presentations: Bernie Hogan and Bill Dutton: “Global changes in relationship practices: How networked individuals become networked dyads through the rise of online dating and social network sites”; Andreas Schmitz: “Effects on bot behavior on regression models – the example of age-related contact patterns”.

Discussion questions: How prevalent is online dating cross-culturally? Is online relationship matching tightly bound to dating sites, or to what extent does it happen through other means? How does online relationship matching happen in countries or demographics where ‘dating’ is not a common practice for initiating relationships?




Session 2: Friends and friending online. Social network sites have taken the world by storm, but they are but one way that individuals find new people online and weave a network tapestry that spans online and offline contexts.

Presentations: Nicole Ellison: “Connection Strategies: Social Capital Implications of Facebook-enabled Communication Practices”; Kathleen Richardson: “Face-to-Facebook”.

Discussion questions: Now that friends include huge numbers of people (in the hundreds) does this change what a ‘friend’ means, or is it simply a more attractive label for ‘tie’? In what ways can we understand first, how to access the number and structure friendships online and second, how to assess their importance, their consequences and their meaning to individuals. What sort of influence do friends online have on our other online behaviors, such as purchasing patterns, online disclosure and communication habits.




Session 3: Intimacy, identity and the Internet. If most couples see each other face to face every day, what role does the internet play? While the web brings content to a user, the Internet in general is a communications platform for reconfiguring the social accessibility within any given relationship. Couples can now track each other on Google latitude, have rich video and voice chats and share documents, folders and pictures.

Presentations: Ben Light: “Modes, Rationales and Consequences of Communicating Stereotypes Across the Internet: from Gaydar to Facebook”; Ellen Helsper: “The Role of ICTs in Maintaining Intimate Relationships”.

Discussion questions: Are there patterns of internet usage or other communication phenomena that are best analyzed at the couple level, rather than the individual level? What techniques work best for capturing couple level data, and for analyzing it? Under what conditions would the Internet bring a couple closer? Under what conditions would the Internet (or Internet content) drive a couple apart? Are there broad cultural differences in the Internet’s role in an intimate relationship? Would the Internet’s role be more couple-specific or culture specific? Are there emerging (or settled) norms of Internet behavior for relationships?




Session 4: The impact of online relationships. The study of the Internet has certainly become more mainstream in the last decade, but it is still a niche topic in some fields and subfields. In the concluding session, we look outward as professionals vying for both scholarly recognition and public attention. Our kick-off presentations do not discuss the topic directly, but return to online dating as a site of potential misrepresentation. Both papers make methodological and theoretical advances, while highlighting the online/offline interface that not only informs our work, but shows where we have the capacity to inform debates on and beyond the internet.

Presentations: Doreen Zillman: “Misrepresentation in Online Mate Search – A Strategic Play with Information”; Andrew Fiore: “From online to offline: Pre-date and post-date judgments of online dating partners”.

Discussion questions: What analytical and statistical methods are considered best practice in sociology, psychology, political science and economics for answering questions about relationships: in networks, in dyads, and cross culturally? What theoretical paradigms would benefit from answering questions about Internet use and interpersonal relationships? Are certain journals and funding agencies more sympathetic to both specific research agendas and specific techniques that fit with our research?



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