Date of Degree

5-2019

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph.D.

Program

Anthropology

Advisor

Michael Blim

Committee Members

Jonathan Shannon

Ida Susser

Subject Categories

Gender and Sexuality | Science and Technology Studies | Social and Cultural Anthropology

Keywords

Masculinity, Sexuality, New Media, Performance, Ritual, Self-Help

Abstract

Don Juan clearly didn’t need any training in flirting skills, but many American men feel they need help. In nearly every major city of North America exists a seduction community: a community of men who train each other to pick up women. Along with digital means for meeting strangers, these communities have emerged over the past 15 years from a subculture to become a globalized industry in seduction training spanning from Brooklyn to Beijing. From online forums and subscription-based clubs to week-long intensive training courses known as bootcamps, hundreds of thousands of men participate in these groups at different levels of engagement.

This dissertation asks, what gender does seduction training produce? Based on original ethnographic fieldwork carried out in New York City between 2015-2016, this dissertation explores how and why men pursue seduction training – and what becomes of them and their social relationships. I argue that seduction is a form of mediated intimacy that envisions the other person as a stage for self-aggrandizement. Two things follow: one, seducers lose out on the sense of human connection that they originally intended to get. Two, seduction training becomes less about seducing women than about masculine self-help. In other words, it’s about men learning to have connections and build relationships with other men that give them a meaningful sense of identity.

In fact, seduction training both reproduces and contradicts cultural norms of so-called hegemonic masculinity in the U.S. It does so because these men experience culturally-specific ambivalences around norms of self-help – including ideas of freedom, dependency, and addiction – in ways that complicate heteronormative masculine identities. I furthermore assert that self-fashioning through seduction training invokes ideas of work and play to differentiate contradictory ethics of persuasion and self-expression, and that these ideas in turn instantiate different technologies of embodiment that reproduce inequalities between men along lines of race and class.

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