THE APPLICATION OF RATIONALIZATION AND
NEOINSTITUTIONALISM IN UNDERSTANDING THE SCIENCE
B.A., University of Massachusetts at Amherst, 1994
M.S., Regis University, 2001
A thesis submitted to the
University of Colorado Denver
in partial fulfillment
of the requirements for the degree of
Master of Arts
College of Liberal Arts and Sciences
This thesis for the Master of Arts
has been approved
Will, Mark (M.A., Sociology)
The Application of Rationalization and Neoinstitutionalism in Understanding
the Science of Compatibility
Thesis directed by Assistant Professor Akihiko Hirose
The forces of rationalization have profoundly altered the fabric of society. Within
a very brief span of time, millenniums of tradition have yielded enormous ground
to scientific knowledge, practicality, and calculation. Even courtship, a realm
believed to be immune from rational influence, has been reshaped by the forces of
rationalization. Currently, several Internet dating websites purport a science of
compatibility, revealing an attempt to replace traditional courtship with a form that
is rational and scientific. While such scientific dating websites boldly tout the
science behind their service, there remain traditional courtship beliefs that are
prominently extant. Themes related to love and allusions to soulmates meld with
their science of compatibility, which give rise to the question as to how traditional
courtship beliefs can possibly exist in the recent context of scientific Internet
dating services. Although the literature of rationalization has been invaluable in
articulating the social forces that have veered courtship away from its traditional
moorings, the literature inadequately explains the continued presence of these
traditional courtship beliefs, which should have entirely disappeared in the context
of scientific Internet dating. To address the above question, I rely upon the
paradigm of neoinstitutionalism in an attempt to understand the continuity of
traditional beliefs in the face of rationalization, as exemplified by scientific
Internet dating websites. I argue that this paradoxical relationship exists because
rationalized organizations have co-opted traditional elements. By applying the
concepts of legitimacy, co-optation and loose coupling found in organizational
theories such as resource dependency theory, concepts that describe how
institutions survive in ever-changing environments, we come to a better
understanding of how traditional courtship beliefs are preserved despite the
onslaught of rationalization.
This abstract represents the content of the candidates thesis. I recommend its
I wish to thank my advisor, Akihiko Hirose, for his patience and
invaluable guidance throughout the thesis process. I also wish to thank
Candan Duran-Aydintug for her steadfast encouragement during the
course of my sociological studies.
1. RATIONALIZATION 6
2. HISTORY OF COURTSHIP 24
Courtship Emerges 25
Courtship in England 27
Elite Courtship 1800s 30
Courtship in America 31
American Courtship in the Victorian Era 33
Urban Dwelling and Industrialization 34
Twentieth Century Dating and Ideals 36
3. EMERGENCE OF SCIENTIFIC DATING WEBSITES 39
Precursors of Internet Dating 40
The Rise of Internet Dating and Related Websites 42
Bulletin Board Services and Chat Rooms 44
The Increase in Computer-Mediated Dating Sites 47
Scientific Claims of Internet Dating 49
Analysis of Purported Compatibility Tests 55
4. CO-OPTATION OF TRADITION 60
5. CONCLUSION 70
6. REFERENCES 73
I realized that I was simply choosing the wrong type of men to date. The
men my mom set me up with wete almost as bad. I turned to eHarmony as a
last hope to find a man with the qualities I wanted in [a] mate but seemed
unable to find myself.
From: Gainesville, VA Married: September 27, 2008
Max Weber saw history as a process by which nature, society, and individual
behavior are increasingly subjected to planning, technical procedure, and rational
action. Rationalization, as he observed, is magic giving way to scientific knowledge,
traditional values to practicality, and feeling to calculation. Although the process of
rationalization is far from over, certain irrational realms of human life are believed to
be immune from rational influences. Weber ( 1993), in one of his essays in the
sociology of religion, acknowledged that romantic love is the greatest irrational
However, the recent emergence of Internet dating websites1 (e.g., eHarmony,
Chemistry.com, and PerfectMatch.com) that purport a science of compatibility,
1 The Internet dating websites that are referred to in this thesis target clients looking for serious, long -
term romantic relationships.
signals an attempt to control the irrational force of romantic love2 by tempering it
with a rational-scientific process. In the hope of finding a compatible partner, one can
now visit a website to answer a scientifically developed questionnaire that
identifies essential personality characteristics used for matching potential mates. The
data are analyzed, and using a proprietary algorithm, the site matches one with
potential mates with whom one can have, according to the Internet dating website, a
very high probability of a successful, long-term relationship. This new science of
compatibility does not promise that one will fall in love with any one of the selected
mates, but if such feelings mutually blossom, one is assured by the Internet dating
companies that the scientific process has facilitated the best possible choice.
In this thesis, I contend that the emergence of a scientifically facilitated
choice leading to the best possible mate is an outcome of rationalization, breaching
not only the last remaining havens of the irrational but, most significantly, tradition
itself. Once solely guided by traditional arrangements (and/or romantic ideals), love
itself has been subjected to the forces of rationalization. Yet despite this
transformation of courtship, there stubbornly remain traditional characteristics that
are an integral part of these scientific dating websites. Themes related to love and
allusions to soulmate meld with a science of compatibility. A salient question one is
compelled to confront is how can traditional beliefs and behaviors continue to persist
2 The terms love, courtship, and dating are u sed interchangeably to refer to the social pursuit of
in the face of rationalization and detraditionalization as exemplified by these
scientific Internet dating services? Or in other words, why do rationalized
organizations such as these dating websites include traditional elements in their
presentation to the public? Although the rationalization literature is instrumental in
helping us articulate the social forces that have veered courtship away from its
traditional moorings, the literature inadequately explains the continued presence of
the sentiments of traditional courtship (i.e., the idea of a soulmate), which should
have entirely disappeared in the context of scientific Internet dating.
In my thesis, I borrow several ideas from neoinstitutionalism, which is a
nebulous set of social scientific theories that emphasize the role of institutions as
important variables for explaining social phenomena (Darity 2007:472). It became
particularly significant in the 1970s and 1980s as a reaction to both the society-
centrism (which neglected to consider the causal roles that institutions played in
society) and the social reductionism found in sociology and its sister disciplines
(Darity 2007). Neoinstitutionalism, I contend, is invaluable in augmenting our
understanding of how traditional beliefs can persist when they should have been
displaced by scientifically based beliefs. I argue that the institution of courtship is
able to maintain the continuity of traditional beliefs in the face of rationalization
because rationalized organizations, like eHarmony, has co-opted (Pfeifer and
Salancik 1978) traditional elements. By applying the concepts of legitimacy (Pfeffer
and Salancik 1978, Suchman 1995), co-optation (Pfeffer and Salancik 1978, Selznick
1949) and loose coupling (Pfeifer and Salancik 1978), concepts which enable us to
understand how institutions survive in ever-changing environments, we come to a
better understanding of how traditional beliefs are preserved from the onslaught of
The structure of this thesis is as follows: In chapter 2,1 provide a general
review of rationalization and detraditionalization and the various ways in which the
relationship between them has been theorized. Thus, I attempt to shed some light on
the broader social forces that have given rise to the science of Internet dating. The
review is theoretically centered on Webers definition, which saw history as a process
by which nature, society, and individual behavior are increasingly subjected to
planning, technical procedure, and rational action. In chapter 3,1 give a brief history
of courtship in England and America, from the 18th century to the present day, to
show how the institution of courtship has been progressively unencumbered by
tradition and family by the forces of rationalization. At the same time, I examine how,
despite the increasing self-determination and autonomy in selecting a partner and
increasing freedom from the constraints of tradition, many elements of traditional
courtship still remain. It is important to note that the English courtship under
discussion is not to be considered a direct predecessor of the romantic love one finds
in American Internet dating websites; rather, my aim is to merely trace some of the
historical and social elements that may have precipitated a uniquely American and
modem archetype of romantic love that largely targets a heterosexual, white, and
middle class population. This archetype, and its link to the past, comes to the fore
when we encounter the idea ofsoulmates3 found on these Internet dating websites.
In chapter 4,1 trace the historical trajectory of romantic love found in Internet dating
and its culmination in scientific dating websites. I describe how these websites
purport to use science to be more effective in finding compatible partners for their
members. Finally, in chapter 5,1 explore how the ideas of co-optation and loose
coupling help explain the continuation of traditional forms of courtship found in these
scientific dating websites. In chapter 6,1 conclude with an overview of the thesis
along with some ideas about things missed and future directions.
3 A soulmate is someone with whom one is highly compatible. It also implies a spiritual connection
that is shaped by destiny.
In this chapter, I provide a general review of rationalization in the attempt to
shed some light on the broader social forces that have given rise to the science of
Internet dating. I examine Webers exploration of an increasingly rationalized world,
Adorno and Horkheimers evaluation of the ways in which institutions and social
processes have been transformed, and Habermas response to Webers theory of
rationalization. In addition, I lightly touch upon detraditionalization, a subset of
rationalization, which identifies a shift of authority: from without to within. It entails
the decline of the belief in pre-given or natural order of things (Heelas 1996:2).
Furthermore, although Weber is well known as the primary figure who theorized the
process of rationalization, he was joined by many other social theorists in grappling
with rationalization, which to this day, remains a critical issue in sociology. Such
attempts have been made by Durkheim, Parsons, Veblen, and Wallerstein. Durkheim
argued that society was essentially a moral order which constrained the individual and
conditioned them to conform to the normative values and structures that were set in
place to make society itself increasingly productive and successful (Durkheim 1893).
Talcott Parsons utilized principles of rationalization to support his theory of
modernization. He envisioned societies as being capable of internal change based on
rational evaluation of traditions and their utility to society, but he criticized an over-
reliance on rationality as the cause for the devaluing of social traditions and religious
beliefs (Gerhardt 2002). Veblens theory of rationality asserts a weighted role for
technology, as he contends that technological innovation, in essence, is the inherent
flaw in social rationality (Yilmaz 2007). Most saliently, Veblen cited that the process
of industrial evolution will increasingly catalyze a purposeful, wrongful
rationalization of that which is irrational (Yilmaz 2007). Immanuel Wallerstein's
world systems theory proposes a way of analyzing social change that relies upon a
view of society as a functioning unified entity that independently impacts the actions
and events that occur for individuals (Wallerstein 1974); he relates the ways in which
the drive toward the rationalization of society is one which is impacting the world as
a whole as well as the individuals and specific cultures within that world system.
Max Weber (1946) noted that humans are not by nature the entirely rational
actors that the Enlightenment theorized they could be. He saw that humans do not
base all of their decisions on the most logical and reasonable process and that their
societies were not reflections of purely rational behavior (Weber 1946).
Simultaneously, he observed in Europe that the Enlightenment had influenced
societys worldview such that it was now based on the values of rational action in all
areas, including economics, social traditions, science, technology, and even religion.
Webers observations culminated in his theory of rationalization ( 1993) in
which he viewed history as a process by which nature, society, and individual
behavior are increasingly subjected to planning, technical procedure and rational
action. Rationalization, as he observed, is magic giving way to scientific knowledge,
traditional values to practicality, and feeling to calculation. Building on the work of
Durkheim, Weber created a sociological revolution that still reverberates today.
Max Weber postulated that the past, present, and future of Western society
could be effectively described and analyzed by the principle of increasingly
rationalized action. Weber (1946) stated that the world was such that one can, in
principle, master all things by calculation (p. 139). This calculation necessitated the
application of reason and logic to all things, both societal and individual. He
described capitalism as a rational mode of economic life because it was based on
the process of production which could be measured, rationally impacted, and
calculated such that it could be moved toward a goal of improvement and progress
(Weber 1946). Weber (1946) argued that Western societys economic, social,
cultural, and individual life were all founded on this principle such that all life could
be essentially controlled, modified, and improved through the application of technical
procedure, planning, and rational action.
The application of rationalization to human life required humanity to submit
the magical and emotive aspects of life to logic and reason. This resulted in an
increasingly impersonal and mechanized way of life that discounted the natural
emotionality and animistic nature of human discourse. As society became
increasingly intellectualized through the glorification of scientific and technological
knowledge, the world became disenchanted, no longer animated by the spiritual.
Weber argued that as the world becomes more and more disenchanted, the cold hard
facts of science and technology, which coincide perfectly with the goals of production
and rationality, push the formerly dominant subjects of religion, metaphysics, and
theology into the background of human consciousness (Weber 1946).
Along with Weber, Adorno and Horkheimer (1944) viewed the processes of
modem society through the eyes of the German critical tradition. Set against a
backdrop of Marxist materialism which had resulted not in the freedom of the people
but in fascism and totalitarianism, Horkheimer and Adomo established a new line of
reasoning in which society should not accept one dominant cultural foundation to the
exclusion of all others as if that foundation were the absolute undeniable truth but
should rather approach society as a work in progress that needs to be continually
evaluated for its effectiveness. At its core, critical theory, which orients itself toward
both critically examining and changing society as a whole, asserted that no
sociological theory should be taken at face value and applied without analysis of the
actual effects that the theory was having as it was implemented. This has been later
described with the term techno-rationality and instrumental rationality (Marcuse
 1991) because critical theory relies not merely on theoretical stances but on
the instrumental and empirical effects of the theory. In this way they challenged the
Enlightenments application of reason and rationality primarily in the realm of theory
and instead argued that reason and rationality could only be effectively utilized when
applied to analyzing real life (Adorno and Horkheimer 1944).
As such, Adorno and Horkheimer, as well as other members of the Frankfurt
School (e.g., Benjamin, Marcuse, and Pollock), evaluated the ways in which
institutions and social processes were being implemented and they critiqued them
such that the ways in which they were deviating from the ideal were illuminated. For
instance, Adorno and Horkheimer (1944) criticized the culture industry by showing
the ways in which the culture industry created a normative general standard by which
all individuals were judged to the point where individuality itself was lost. In this
sense, Horkheimer and Adorno criticize modem technological society for its extreme
commitment to production in the way that Weber did, indicating that individuals had
lost the essence of their humanity through the increasing production-oriented societies
in which they lived.
The Frankfurt School thus added the social inequality and sense of alienation
that Weber noted in his rationalization theory to Marxism and returned to dialectical
idealism in the face of the failure of the Russian Revolution and other socialist and
communist movements to produce the ideal system that Marx theorized would occur.
In this sense, the Frankfurt School began from a position of socialist ideology but
with the wisdom of seeing the failure of the transformation from capitalism to
temporary totalitarianism to communism. Various critical theorists (Marcuse 1941,
1964; Pollock 1941; Wellmer 1971) see alienation as inherent in rationalization and
argue that as society becomes more rationalized and technologically driven, the core
of individuality and humanity is lost. In this, they agree with Weber and assert that
modern society has stripped human beings of their ability to feel, to believe, and to
have faith. In this, they agree with Weber and assert that modem society has stripped
individuals of the ability to feel, to believe, and to have faith. Furthermore,
rationalization has alienated humanity simply for the purpose all for the purpose of
glorifying logic and reason and its products, capitalist economic profit and the drive
for technological progress (Arato 1993).
The relationship between productivity, technology, and rationalization,
however, is at least partially complementary according to Marx. Productivity is
enhanced by the introduction of new technologies that improve labor. Author Peter
Worsley, in Marx and Marxism, writes that Marx would... be positively keen to
raise productivity, to introduce and accept innovations, whether new technology or
improved ways of working, and-most important of all-able and keen to contribute
their own ideas, inventions and ways of organizing work... (2002: 77). Marxist
visions, however, are not defined wholly in terms of consumption. More saliently,
trends of rationalization do not automatically support human growth and evolution,
though they do undoubtedly support both productivity and technological innovation.
The beginning of a genuinely human society would stem from the expansion
and fiilfillment of material desires in conjunction with the concurrent satisfaction of
basic needs (Marx 1867, Worsley 2002); this would manifest in the existence of
urban meccas in which technology and rationalization were ever-present and the
parallel existence of the country-esque or pastoral vision for rural, agricultural areas
(Worsley 2002). However, in this modern age when even the rural areas of the world
are increasingly not immune to the dehumanizing effects of technology, Marxist
ideals of the dual roles played by the rural and the urban no longer apply.
Consequentially, the urban and more rationalized centers increasingly absorb the
rural and less rationalized peripheries.
Habermas developed his sociological theory in response to Webers theory of
rationalization; he used various metatheoretical, empirical, and methodological
approaches in order to create a unified theory that builds upon and also diverges from
these accounts of rationalization, postulating that rationalization is founded upon the
means of acquiring the knowledge that drives societal progress rather than the
acquisition of knowledge itself (Habermas 1985). His "theory of communicative
action" reveals the practical knowledge that individuals have in order to function in
society, where rationality entails how "speaking and acting subjects acquire and use
knowledge (Habermas 1987:314), and posits rationality not in the actions of
individuals (as Weber had theorized). Instead, Habermas asserted that every time a
person speaks they are intending to achieve the goal of mutual understanding which
in turn drives society toward organized action based upon unifying shared principles.
Societal progress, then, was a result of communicative action that moved toward
purer reason and away from what were essentially false principles and superstition,
entailing societal evolution based upon greater and greater reason but lacking a
teleological state of completion or perfection of reason (Habermas 1987).
In The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere, Habermas (1991)
fundamentally condemns the purposeful manipulation of public opinion through the
media as a substantial obstacle to the rationalization of society. The deterioration of
the public sphere in the modem age is, by extension, directly attributable to the
skewed role played by the media in conjunction with misdirected, political discourse.
For Habermas, the enlightened public sphere of the eighteenth century
fertilized the ground for political emancipation and catalyzed the changed nature of
politics in the modem age (Habermas 1994). The colonization of the lifeworld, as
structured through culture, society, and personality, was then a channel for public
sphere erosion, as it became so inordinately defined through media influence
(Fleming 1997). The rationalization of the lifeworld through science, morality, and art
is, however, problematic in that it places a rational framework around that which, by
definition, is not integral to the rationalization process.
As a result, his theory of rationalized discourse contrasted Webers
rationalization theory, arguing that discourse drives social actions toward greater and
greater expressions of scientific, technological, and capitalistic progress. While
absorbing Weber's principles of rationalization, it rejected the central Weberian
notions of animism and magic. Significantly, Habermas also turns away from the
original Frankfurt School of Neomarxism by diverging from the Marxist principles of
social change and moving toward a vision of social evolution based on
communicative discourse and linguistic intersubjectivity (Held 1980).
The importance of communication within the process of rationalization can be
distinguished, however, from that within the confines of rationality. Rationality, from
Webers perspective, is a social characteristic that embodies belief in that which is
empirically true; it is a fundamental understanding that social values are based on
evidence (Tilman 2004). Conversely, irrationality is indicative of beliefs that are not
rooted in demonstrable truth (Tilman 2004). Communication that is driven by
rationality, then, could be considered supportive of the process of rationalization.
Rationalization, however, as the systematic trending of society toward an
increasing embrace of reason, is far greater in scope than rationality, which could
define the actions of only individual or social entity. While rational action stems from
rational psychology, it is the collective, logical process of inquiry that defines a
rational society (Tilman 2004).
Rationalization, by definition, ignores the cultures of non-secular societies
that primarily exist in the Middle and Far East (Alexander, Marx, and Williams
2004). Rationalization is inextricably bound to utilitarianism, focusing primarily on
the end-point of social processes; this also is indicative of Western values that
promote democracy and capitalism as the quintessential cornerstones of civilization
(Alexander, Marx, and Williams 2004). In ignoring the legitimate values of non-
Westem societies, however, rationalization theories define themselves as largely
The postmodern critique of rationality and rationalization goes one step
further by asserting that there can be no truly rational society, as society can only be
comprised of that which has come before these modem times. In essence, individual
cultures and individual actions cannot be extricated from modern society. Authors
Alexander, Marx, and Williams write in Self Social Structure, and Beliefs that
postmodernism-poststructuralism argues against cultural holism and
for the complexity, contingency, and historicity of cultures, as well as
for the multiple contradictions, rather than functional interrelations,
among cultural elements. But at the same time, these theories agree
with traditional structuralism about the autonomy of the cultural
Postmodernism aims to highlight the importance of individual cultures,
rejecting assertions that globalization is catalyzing a worldwide, cultural homogeny.
Relating postmodernism to rationalization is a complex endeavor, by
extension, as postmodernism refutes any assertion that defines society in terms of
absolutes and final, collective states (Alexander, Marx, and Williams 2004). The link
between postmodernism and rationalization, however, is perhaps most definable
within the channel of communication. For proponents of postmodernism,
communication is a means of promoting the social autonomy of both individuals and
cultures. While that communication may be indicative of rationalization, it is not
indicative of a worldwide unification of that which is rational.
Postmodernists acknowledge not only the dynamics of conflict and change
within society but also the ways in which human theories of action engage actual
human life. It is recognized that the Enlightenment's core value of rationality had
directly impacted almost every aspect of society, resulting in human beings becoming
cogs in the machine of an increasingly rational society. Although focusing on
different aspects of the impact of rationality and coming to different conclusions
regarding its effects, each began from the understanding that the modem emphasis on
rationality as the primary human trait has led to significant consequences in social
and individual life. One of these consequences is detraditionalization.
The societal movement toward rationalization that Weber postulated has been
reconstituted in different ways, one of which is detraditionalization (Heelas, Lash,
and Morris 1996). A signature of detraditionalization is a scientific authority that has
shifted from the realm of the external expert source to the individual self (Heelas,
Lash, and Morris 1996). In its rudimentary form, detraditionalization represents a
shift of authority: from without to within (Heelas, Lash, and Morris 1996:2). Thus,
detraditionalists argue that society has moved away from adherence to the traditional
sources of authority and away from externally constructed authorities as a whole and
now views the individual as the most active agent of social and self-change (Heelas,
Lash, and Morris 1996). In fact, detraditionalization describes (similar to
secularization) the general decline of peoples belief in a cosmic or social order that is
predetermined by God (as religion asserts) or by nature (as science argues). Instead,
detraditionalization describes individualization as the means by which society is
determined, controlled, and guided toward change or stability (Heelas, Lash, and
Within the detraditionalist construct, tradition itself is defined as anything that
has been passed on from one generation to the next in the sense that it creates a social
fabric based on the past (Shils 2006). Thus, traditions can be beliefs, practices,
images, institutions, or even literature. These traditions served as the basis for the
predominant paradigm but with the influence of modernization they have been
replaced. Even such concepts as patriotism and such institutions as marriage and
courting fall under the dictates of tradition and are only the focus of mainstream
attention when they serve some other individual purpose. To this end, Giddens argues
that marriage now serves the individual purpose of self-expression and self-
development; when it is no longer necessary for this purpose, it is discarded (Gross
Within this framework, adherence to tradition is no longer a normative
construct that is assumed to be true and accurate within the minds of individuals in
society. When some belief, such as the existence of an external authority, is assumed
to be true the people respond to views that diverge from this stable normative
structure by defining them as threatening. Until the onset of globalization and
modernization, detraditionalists such as Marx, Smith, and Locke argue that this was
precisely the case: the individual had to struggle to assert his or her personal agency.
Marx's theory of economic freedom through communism sought to give the
individual all economic authority over his or her own life by divesting the state of that
power and charging the state with being the servant of the people through the
administration, coordination, and distribution of resources and services for the benefit
of all citizens (Roberts 2005). While this theory still has no true witness in the real
world, Marxs intention was to free and empower the individual. In a different vein,
Adam Smith sought to empower the individual with the maximum economic
authority, but through encouragement of human beings natural competitiveness
rather than through cooperation (Smith  1902). Finally, John Locke (1690)
sought to fortify the individual by giving citizens the authority over their own
government. Individualism and detraditionalization thereby shape the paradigmatic
political beliefs that the government is subject to the people and that the people have
ultimate control of the government and must act accordingly by means of the exercise
of their political rights and responsibilities (Locke 1690).
Another mode of detraditionalization is found in the philosophical works of
Foucault (1984). In his book Madness and Civilization (2001), Foucault shows how
the Churchs control over the individual was threatened and dismantled by the
Reformation but that this control over peoples behavior did not, in fact, dissipate but
was merely shifted to the individual. In other words, people during the Middle Ages
were controlled by the fear of sin and punishment by God and that this fear
empowered external authorities to control the people (Foucault 2001). After the
decline of the Church, however, this source of godly control was no longer
paradigmatic. The foundation of control was shifted to the human mind and the
concept of insanity became antithetical to mental normalcy. Instead of being afraid of
Gods punishment, people began to fear their own mental instability and thus were
encouraged to exert more control over themselves (Foucault 2001). This is yet
another aspect of the shift of authority from the external to the internal source, or in
other words, the Enlightenment idea of the individual. One sees evidence of this
increased drive for self-control as an expression of internal authority in the incredible
success of the self-help industry.
This is not to say that traditions have been discarded altogether but that they
have become the exception rather than the rule. Traditions that externally regulate
peoples lives still exist, but they are now viewed with some suspicion by society at
large (Heelas, Lash, and Morris 1996). For instance, prior to the 20th century there
was no concept of fundamentalism as a type of religious viewpoint even though most
religions prior to that century could be defined as fundamentalist according to the
modem notion. Fundamentalism represents adherence to an external religious
authority in which Gods rule and law override whatever individual authority a person
might believe they possess (Heelas, Lash, and Morris 1996). In todays mainstream
society fundamentalism is regarded with at least some if not great suspicion and is
considered divergent from the norm (Heelas, Lash, and Morris 1996). This reflects
the tremendous shift detraditionalization wherein society has moved from the
previous normative convergence around the belief in an external authority like
governments, culture or god to the belief that the individual is the only authority to
which society adheres.
Within this paradigm, individuals must adhere to an internal sense of order, an
inner voice, when disorder threatens the foundation of society or an individuals
life in some way (Heelas, Lash, and Morris 1996). The self is no longer embedded in
a set of cultural and societal traditions but is rather free to choose autonomously
(Giddens 1993). It represents the ultimate decentralization as the idea of the
individual becomes the dominant actor in the drama of society. This
detraditionalization is a part of the movement away from authoritative
institutionalization of marriage as the external authority over human intimacy and
partnership toward individual authority (Gross and Simmons 2002). This is believed
to have led to a general decline in the societal stability and certainty that was based on
past beliefs about life and how it should be lived (i.e. traditions) and has moved to a
less stable but freer and more future oriented belief system (Giddens 1993).
There are a myriad of ways in which this shift is observable in society beyond
those mentioned above. If one looks closely at the scientific institutions of physics,
one sees that Newtonian mechanics which conveyed a view of the universe in which
everything ran according to an external order called the clockwork universe has been
replaced by the view of quantum mechanics which postulated that within each
particle there is actually an individual reaction of consciousness based upon the
viewpoint of the observer. Thus, the observer, the individual, has power to change the
universe in quantum physics whereas in Newtonian physics the universe is an
external authority beyond the individuals control (Malin 2003).
When compared to rationalization, detraditionalists agree with several key
premises and conclusions although a few of these are quite basic. For one thing, they
both share that globalization and modernization have had monumental effects on the
way that people think, act and believe (Heelas, Lash, and Morris 1996). This is itself
a significant assumption on the part of sociology as a discipline in that it is asserting
that the changes wrought by technology and science actually cause transformation in
Both theories also focus on the role of reason in the development of the
modem society; for example, the rational-legal structure of authority found in the
evolution of bureaucracies (Bendix 1978). Critical theorists such as Adorno and
Horkheimer (1944) call the notion of absolute reality into question in the same way
that detraditionalists do in the sense that reason dictates that no one cultural tradition
is necessarily right while others are wrong (Heelas, Lash, and Morris 1996). Critical
theorists steer away from the notion that reason was the basis of the Enlightenment or
is the basis for modem action. It might be argued that detraditionalization also
adheres to this idea that humanity is more alienated, because individuals now act
without the overriding governing structure of traditions rather than united within
those traditions. Yet detraditionalists tend to view this change in a less dystopian
fashion than rationalists (Heelas, Lash, and Morris 1996).
At the same time, detraditionalization also leaves the door open for the
reanimation of the universe and the remystification of life through the mystery of the
individual. By focusing on the self and the intrinsic changeability and enigmatic
nature of human beings, society comes to view consciousness in the individual as a
type of mystery in and of itself (Malin 2003).
Another area in which rationalization and detraditionalization diverge is in the
fact that rationalization does not deconstruct the notion of external authority in the
same way as detraditionalization. Rationalization merely shifts the onus of control
from one institution to another from religion to science. Detraditionalization, on the
other hand, shifts the onus away from external sources altogether and settles it
directly onto the individual. One might view both rationalization and
detraditionalization as a single change that is in process rather than two alternating
and complete theoretical constructs. A similar stance is also taken by postmodernists.
(Lawlere and Harlow 2005:1164).
As a final note, it should be made clear that the views of Simmel, Comte, and
Marx are interrelated with rationalization and detraditionalization as part of this
progression (or at least movement) of social impetus. As mentioned above, Marx
claimed that rationality dictated that economic action should become individualized
in the detraditionalist sense (Roberts 2005). Comte, for his part, fathered the notion
that logical positivism could be applied to society at large in the sense that empirical
data could be utilized for the understanding and discernment of social process (Elias
1978:34). This view is intrinsic to rationalization in a similar way to Durkheims
sociological theory, but as such an early example of sociology it fails to lock onto the
notion of individual agency. Finally, Simmel represents a significant departure from
the notion that traditions are becoming increasingly irrelevant. Instead he places the
entire onus of control onto culture such that the sheer proliferation of objective
culture overwhelms [and frees] the individual (Adams and Sydie 2001:210). At the
same time, SimmePs view aligns well with Webers theory of rationalization in the
sense that both theories assume that the structures and traditions of society are
overwhelming to the individual and assert control over the individual through their
HISTORY OF COURTSHIP
In order to account for the idealized notion of love that is prevalent in Internet
dating websites, it is necessary to trace the history of courtship from origins in
England to its present manifestation in 21st century America. This idea of love is a
construction of the dominant ideologies of heterosexuality, marriage, and procreation.
Building on the literary traditions of courtly love and the renaissance theme of the
star-crossed lovers, courtship was transformed into a set of elaborate practices aimed
at the development of romantic love for the purposes of marriage and childbearing.
This ideal excludes a variety of relational and sexual modalities that nevertheless find
expression in contemporary societies around the world.
In England and America, a profound transformation in the institution of
courtship has taken place over the last four centuries (Bailey 1989). Largely due to
the cultural, economic and sociological transformations brought forth by
rationalization and detraditionalization, the reasons for and expectations of marriage
have shifted (Hill 2000; Lowrie 1951). Bonds based upon romantic love and the
pursuit thereof have orchestrated dissimilar yet intersecting ritual practices which are
increasingly focused upon individual choice and satisfaction (Bailey 1989).
Especially in the United States, while many of the present dating rituals prescribe
social norms (i.e., expectations and the exchange of gifts), courtship largely occurs
within the public space, devoid of parental consent or parental supervision (Bailey
1989). Yet, dating and courtship still contain distinct elements from the past, such as
family approval and the idea of true love. Within this antagonistic social context, the
search for intimacy continues (Hirsch and Wardlow 2006).
By describing aspects of this change during the last three centuries, this
chapter explores how the institution of courtship has been progressively
unencumbered by tradition and family, while still retaining certain rituals and
practices of traditional courtship. Although courtship becomes less encumbered by
family, culture and religious traditions and less paternally restricted (especially
among the Middle and lower classes [Bloch 2003]), many of its rituals and the
conditions reflect their historic underpinnings in unexpected ways. In order to realize
how and why courtship arose and transformed into dating in the 1920s, a historical
exploration is necessary. Despite variances among eras, classes, religious
communities and localities, clear courtship and ritual practices emerge (Rothman
1987), ultimately giving rise to contemporary Internet dating.
Courtship arose in direct response to arranged marriages that took place
throughout most of European history. Largely practiced by the upper classes, who
often married for the consolidation of resources, social and political power, regional
stability and/or inheritance purposes, courtship was highly ritualized (OHara 2000).
Individual desires and choices, influenced by the Enlightenment philosophies of free
will and individual responsibility also inspired the idea of romantic love and the value
of its pursuit (OHara 2000). Yet, in the early 1920s in the United States, the rise of
specializations, industrialization and the societal transformation that ensued
increasingly placed people within more public spaces (Bailey 1989; Hill 2000); they
also coauthored living arrangements beyond the family home, as men and women
pursuing work and/or education ventured to faraway places both within and without
the United States (Bailey 1989).
Technological advancements brought by the telephone, newspapers, and the
rise of modem transportation also allowed more opportunities for the sexes to meet in
the public arena, as did social gatherings, church services, the marketplace and the
rise of cities. Compared with the traditional modes of interaction between the sexes,
the detraditionalization inherent in technological advancement coupled with the rise
of the public meeting space created more chances to encounter the opposite sex and
ultimately pursue romance (Bailey 1989; Hill 1994). While marriage still remained
the goal of courtship, the bonds established became less encumbered by tradition,
parental consent and less directed toward the joining of two families (OHara 2000).
As a consequence, parents became less instrumental in the process of courtship and
its culmination in marriage. Furthermore, they realized lesser social capital and/or
economic gain through them than in previous eras (Fass 2003).
These emerging courtship practices, initially the rituals of the elite, slowly
trickled down into the lower classes. Emulating their pursuits, their gift-giving
practices, exchanges of letters and poetry and dining outside the home, courtship
occurred increasingly within public space. While a suitors economic stability served
as a prerequisite among all classes largely into the 1800s, this quality merely served
as a baseline, a minimum requirement for legal recognition of marriage (Emerson
1996). Yet, courtship and dating have still remained bound to religious, cultural and
economic statuses, if only by extension. Many contemporary rituals merely reflect
their historical precursors and intersect their aims the pursuit of romantic love and
intimacy (Bloch 2003).
Courtship in England
Extending from the Renaissance period until the beginning of the 1800s, most
marriages were arranged with an eye toward the economic advantage of each
respective family, although courtship practices were emerging. Nevertheless, parents
were increasingly devoted to the pursuit of a good match for their sons and daughters
beyond the realm of economics (OHara 2000). A proper suitor was not merely a man
who demonstrated economic stability and at the very least had enough money to
marry, but also one who could win over or attract a daughters heart. Therefore,
visitation and mixed company intermingling was delimited. Yet, the constraints were
not merely culturally imposed. Rather, societal change also played a significant role
As in the previous era, parents in the early 1800s were charged with finding a
good match for their son or daughter (Emerson 1996). While Emerson (1996) reveals
that this ideally meant a good love match, it also meant ensuring economic stability.
In fact, one of the five steps necessary to obtain a legal marriage required setting up
financial agreements (Emerson 1996). Therefore, people in England within the
seventeenth century generally married in their mid-late twenties (Emerson 1996).
Males were typically two to three years older than their wives were and few women
wed before twenty (Emerson 1996). In the eighteenth century, however, marriage age
shifted slightly; an increasing number of people married in their early twenties but the
practice was still not regarded as typical. (Emerson 1996).
While marriage age has a bearing on courtship, the extension of social and
economic power through marriage alternately cultivated norms and expectations
(Emerson 1996; OHara 2000). Accordingly, a noble familys desire to insure
inheritance through a legal heir granted the rights to pursue females as young as seven
for consent (Emerson 1996). Families could receive dowries when she turned nine,
and their daughter could decide for herself whether to reaffirm the vow to wed or to
decline the social contract when she reached age twelve or thirteen (Emerson 1996).
Since males had to be fourteen to consent and English law contended that parties had
to be twenty-one to make a marriage contract, numerous meetings between the
couples occurred (Emerson 1996).
In eighteenth and early nineteenth century England, males were expected to
pen letters of interest to the females father (Emerson 1996). Asking permission to
court his daughter, the letter formalized intent and directed conscious effort. While
the father had the power to reject or delimit intent, the daughter also had power to
consent or decline (Emerson 1996). If she agreed to the first meeting, the man gave
her a ring (Emerson 1996). On the second meeting he brought her gloves (Emerson
1996). On each subsequent visit until their wedding day, he also brought her varied
gifts demonstrating his affection and interest, his economic stability and even his
commitment. While these meetings acquainted the daughter and her suitor, the
parents, they arranged and agreed to the dowry, the betrothal and then set the wedding
date (Emerson 1996).
These practices continued into the nineteenth century. Parental consent still
figured prominently in courtship and meetings. While they were generally conducted
within parlors under the watchful eye of parents or chaperones or at social functions
including church, other traditional elements of courtship emerged. For example,
gloves became a centerpiece in courtship. While they were gifted to women, they
symbolized a betrothal as a public declaration. After all, gloves codified a marriage
proposal (OHara 2000). A womans choice to accept or decline the proposal was
realized through her acceptance and conscious decision to don them at Church that
Sunday (OHara 2000). Inevitably, these courtship rituals were emulated by the lower
tiers of society (Hill 2000).
Elite Courtship 1800s
Among the elites, however, more elaborate social settings gave rise to more
codified courtship rituals (OHara 2000). Among them, name cards became
prominent (Ross 2006). After all, men could not simply approach women (OHara
2000). Women attending balls and dinners in such settings were presented a mans
name card before engaging in a dance or upon meeting (Ross 2006). At the
culmination of the event, the woman selected a name card (Ross 2006). By doing so,
she invited the man to escort her home and an opportunity to become acquainted
(Ross 2006). Of course, this opportunity also granted the chance to meet the womans
parents, gain approval and the chance to pursue further courtship. If these meetings
were successful, the above-mentioned courtship protocols would ensue. Couples
would inevitably meet over time, advance to the front porch where they had more
privacy, but were rarely unattended (Bailey 1989).
These upper-middle class practices characterized most of the Victorian era,
which lasted until 1901. However, the birth of this era also inspired longer, more
passionate letters during courtship, a practice that often extended well into marriage
(OHara 2000). While outwardly constrained by societal, cultural and religious
norms, the pursuit and perpetuation of romantic and passionate love nurtured
increasingly intimate written exchanges between men and women (Rothman 1984).
This development perhaps signals a new privacy, a key concept in the rise of inward-
facing individualism and the resulting rejection of control over love and affection by
outward authorities. The individuals themselves, the lovers, obtain a highly
decentralized autonomy between them, and the mysteries inherent in arranged
marriages are demystified by the highly rationalized knowledge obtained of the lover,
A relationship formerly blessed gives rise to a new ritual, one that offers knowledge
about the lover based not on speculation or mystery, but on their own admitted
passions, desires, and intentions.
Courtship in America
Courtship among the upper-middle classes in America reflected England in
several ways. Parents were still charged with matchmaking and the approval of their
daughters intended. After all, families still perceived marriage as not only an
emotional bond between the young couple but also a property arrangement between
the families themselves (OHara 2000). Yet, courtship practices and norms began to
change in significant ways in America during this period, most especially relative to
age. While parents during the early 1700s to the mid 1700s were actively engaged
in parental selection and/or approval of mates, several other factors influenced
individual choices and the consequences thereof (Bloch 2003). Since America was
partially founded on religious freedom, religious beliefs about marriage and distinctly
American aspirations inspired new practices (Bloch 2003). Because of the importance
of marriage in New England, parents were granted legal rights to determine spouses
in the eighteenth and nineteenth century (Bloch 2003).
Changes dependent upon community and larger society including level of
industrialization, commercialization and immigration may account for the differences
in courtship practices (Hill 2003). For example, the Puritan's courtship practices
extended from the belief that marriage was legal contract, mirroring the practices of
the Church of England (Emerson 1996). Moreover, the Puritans also believed that
romantic love was necessary in courtship and that true love grew within the context of
marriage (Fischer 1989). Therefore, courtship practices including bundling were
expanded. Men and women fully clothed often shared the same bed for a night in the
females home. Although the womans legs were sometimes fitted into a sleeve and a
bundle was placed between the couple, it granted greater opportunity to discover
whether the couple shared mutual interests. Compatibility between the couple was
considered important before taking the most important step: marriage (OHara 2000).
During this era, parents had less outward control over the distribution of familial
resources and therefore lesser means to influence the individual choice whether to
marry. While females and males gained inheritance and the oldest son generally
realized a greater portion thereof, people broadly and generally had more means
through which to pursue courtship (Hill 2003). Women and men rarely courted
outside of their class (OHara 2000). While marriage choice often combined social
and/or familial economic gain, more often than not it reflected something new: the
emergence of individual choice and the diminished reliance on parents acting as
"marriage experts" (Ott 2008). Since courtship offered the lovers the opportunity to
know each other prior to marriage, they became more skeptical of their parents' role
as experts on the subject of both marriage itself and the suitability of the potential
American Courtship in the Victorian Era
As in England during the same period, letters during the height of the
Victorian era offered couples a new level of autonomy: intimate privacy (Hill 2003).
Mirroring the letters penned by men asking permission to court or to wed, the written
word carried ones wishes, thoughts and intentions to ones intended rather than to
her father (Lystra 1992), indicating the deconstruction of authority from the outward
parental model to the inward individual self and, again, delimiting the notion that the
father is an expert in the tradition of marriage. By expressing their passion openly in
long letters, men could confide privately to their intended, freed from the traditional
constraints of direct parental observation, consent and the consensus that romantic
love was the only reason for marriage (Hill 2003; Tracy 2006). In fact, the exchange
of letters became paramount, all at once conveying ones passion and unleashing it
onto a page while disclosing the most private thoughts (Hill 2003). Though they
overtly disclosed passion, they also revealed ones thoughts, faults and innermost self.
As the 1835 courtship between Theodore Weld and Angelina Grimke revealed, each
loved the other, yet mere attention to romantic love was not enough. Rather intimacy,
truly knowing one another including flaws, also became interwoven within courtship
(Hill 2003). The letters of this era deviated from their earlier counterparts by virtue of
the courting couple openly professing their passion for each other. This change was
partially instigated by popular advice books entering America nearly fifty years
earlier which exalted the idea of romantic love (Rotham 1984).
Urban Dwelling and Industrialization
Obviously, societal changes alternately informed and established courting
practices, most especially the decline of agriculture and the age of industrialization
(Hill 2003). While the former eras had delimited opportunities for women to pursue
higher education and/or work pursuits beyond the watchful eyes of their families, the
post-Civil war era created numerous opportunities (Bailey 1989). Accordingly,
women who sought careers attended universities. Still segregated from their male
counterparts these women realized many opportunities for socialization within the
university cities. So did their working class counterparts who migrated to cities
seeking economic opportunity and advancement (Hill 2003).
As Bailey (1989) details, the private rituals of courtship became increasingly
codified and increasingly public. Devoid of parlors in which to entertain guests and
suitors, socialization itself occurred in numerous contexts (Bailey 1989). After all,
women often shared living quarters under these circumstances, as did men. Therefore,
these houses were not homes in the traditional sense for young men and women.
Rather, they were rooms in which to rest or study, read and/or write. Perhaps, because
of this isolation, letters penned from within the confines of ones room more
accurately conveyed ones longings. After all, both were private.
Nevertheless, the Victorian tendency to dissuade public displays of affections
overtly contrasted with the passion overwhelmingly hidden from view (Lystra 1992).
Bundling by the fireside, occasional hotel meetings and other private encounters
increasingly occurred; these rituals and the intimacy realized through them have only
been recently discovered through careful examination of numerous letter repositories
Despite these juxtapositions, elite courtship rituals continued to become more
popular even throughout the Victorian era. Understandably then, this is the picture,
the image and scene most books, movies and romantic enterprises idealize.
Inevitably, gifts of jewelry, flowers and date preparations have filtered into the 21st
century (OHara 2000). Women spend inordinate amounts of time beautifying
themselves and coordinating attire. Men also greet women with small tokens of
affection including bouquets, but more often than not womens families are not
present (Bailey 1989; Ross 2006). Dining, dancing, theaters and parks offer public
spaces for courting (Bailey 1989). Yet, privacy and safe environments are
increasingly absent. The new custom of dating had merged the private with the public
Twentieth Century Dating and Ideals
Enmeshed within the era of the twentieth century, both in England and
America, romantic inclinations, passions and vivid scenes are conspicuously
advertised. The 20th century ushered in an era of faster and more prevalent
communication where magazines, books, radios, TVs and even computers granted
greater opportunity to appeal to the desires of young people. As in previous eras,
advice books continue to offer expertise on romantic love, and the widespread
availability of multiple sources of information further diminished the role of the
parent as expert, and the rise of knowledge about the opposite sex (as opposed to
myth and mystery).
Yet, people were also freer to pursuit courtship. As an unexpected result of
industrialization, upper and middle classes first realized more freedom from lifes
demands, its labor-intensive practices and the time required to clean, cook, and
maintain the home (Whitby and Frayser 1995). Accordingly, with more leisure time
available, courtship became a focus. For the lower- and middle classes as well,
freedom from these duties or, at minimum, the time saved in performing them
because of technology, released youth from chores and duties at home much earlier
than their ancestors. Influenced by the media and its images, more young people
engaged in public forms of entertainment such as theaters, dance halls, and
community events (Rotham 1984). Educational and vocational pursuits granted
opportunities for youth beyond their homes, beyond the watchful eyes of their family
members and their front porches and beyond their customs and conventions (Rotham
1984). Through the exercise of this newfound freedom and release of restraint by
outward authority, dating has become a prevalent ritual (Bailey 1989).
Whereas courtship was never taken lightly because of its entailment of family
involvement, dating is not always serious because of its lowered expectations.
Although some women in the 1800s engaged within its rituals as early as sixteen,
they were always focused upon marriage (Lowrie 1951). In contrast, dating is not
always a reflection of marriage or even directed toward it as a goal (Hirsch 2006;
Lowrie 1951). Rather, dating has evolved as a shadow of its predecessor courtship.
Accordingly, dating contains courtship elements of the past. Women still have
freedom of choice relative to suitors, but many women engage within dating
searching for intimacy, seeking economic rewards and a partner for entertainment
purposes (Bailey 1989). Adolescents often enter into the dating scene as a means of
socialization and one of acceptance. Supplanted by the romantic images cast through
media, one must question how and when dating will again evolve (Ross 2006). As in
times past, it will inevitably contain the elements of courtship.
Both in England and America, courtship4 through the ages has been altered in
several ways and has emerged as secular, individualized expressions of hopes and
desires. This ultimately yielded dating, introducing public courtship among younger
people not always directed toward marriage or its pursuit (Lowrie 1951). Inevitably
refashioned by the idea of romantic love, individual desires and passions midst an
industrial and post-industrial society coauthored greater opportunities to engage in
more social relationships, free from parental eyes and, more importantly, increasingly
devoid of parental consent. While the consequences of this evolution have produced a
deeper need for intimacy and indeed intensified its pursuit, the rituals and practices of
dating in the 20th and 21st century inevitably reflect those codified through courtship
within the centuries past.
4 As I mentioned earlier, the idealized notion of lo ve that dominates internet dating websites in
America is an outgrowth of English courtship practices; it is a specific construction that is heterosexual
and oriented toward marriage and procreation.
EMERGENCE OF SCIENTIFIC DATING WEBSITES
Where dating and mate-finding were originally relegated to matchmakers or
relationships arranged by family members, the progression of dating has undergone
substantial technological evolution over the past few centuries, and is particularly
impressive within the past 30 years. With respect to Internet dating, a 2006 Pew study
reported that many Americans personally know others who have used Internet dating
websites with success. Approximately 15%or 30 million individualsclaim to
know someone involved in a long-term, Internet-facilitated relationship (Sautter,
Tippett and Morgan 2006).
Technology has profoundly reshaped earlier courtship practices: replacing the
two determinants of attraction in the dating spherefamiliarity and proximitywith
the ability for online dates to transcend real-world social networks to enable those
who might never have met otherwise to do so (Fiore & Donath 2004; Peris et al.
2002). Accordingly, the evolution of Internet dating was an incremental development
concordant with technological innovations which expanded early print personal
advertisements to the point of large social networks and scientifically based
relationship-matching websites. This evolution depicts Internet dating as a deeply
inward experience, devoid of any parental control or expertise and predicated upon
the excising of mystery from the relationship process. As a purely technical procedure
involving the use of the computer, it attempts to replace society's authority over the
individual by empowering them to choose in what ways they are assisted in finding
their mate. In doing so, traditional authority itself is not toppled, but merely replaced
by the new authority of science and its most prominent progeny, the highly rational
Precursors of Internet Dating
Modem dating has deep roots in the nascent technological advancements of
the early 18th century, and the rise of various technologies since that period disclose a
similar rise in the popularity of ritualized dating. As technological processes such as
newspapers, telephones, and computers gained social dominance, this
industrialization created social relationships that necessarily utilized those processes,
while at the same time weakening the traditional influence of the family and the
church in those relationships.
The first print personal ads have been traced back to 1700a mere ten years
following the creation of the modem newspaper and focused primarily on singles
looking for spouses. These ads were part of a larger group of matrimonial agencies
with similar goals: marriage (Mumm and Smith 2007). Because of the stigma
associated with individuals who resorted to printed advertisements as a matrimonial
aidand for homosexuals who utilized them to find mates during a time where
sexual differences were believed deviantthe practice was rarely overtly discussed
By the early 1900s personal ads became more mainstream, becoming very
popular during World War I when lonely, single servicemen utilized them to attract
female friends or pen pals (Mumm and Smith 2007). After a period of decline
personal ads enjoyed resurgence in the 1960s as part of the increasing counterculture
during an era of free love. By the 1980s, personal ads had begun another ascent,
reaching their pinnacle in popularity and acceptance as a legitimate means for
attracting potential mates by society and this popularity helped, in part, to fuel the
development of Internet dating (Hardey 2007). Whatever the era or medium, the
underlying draw behind personals is in the belief that by specifying certain attributes
and interests one can streamline the dating process (Hollander 2004). This desire to
hasten the consummation of dating (and possibly marriage) ritual could possibly alter
the intricate, traditional and time-consuming courtship process, indicating that time is
something that somehow needs to be "saved"; a typical feature of post-industrial
rationalized society. And without familial support or advice, this streamlined process
left little recourse to "dating authorities", leaving the rationalized seeker basically on
their own and subject to their own autonomous authority.
Drawing on the success of print personals and technological innovations,
telephone personals rose to popularity and even today are represent a measurable
sector of the dating industry. Early systems utilized 900-numbers and voice mailbox
systems (Bentz). More contemporary telephone personals combine party lines and
cell phone texting to enable group or individual discussions with or without the
possibility of meeting someone in the area with whom to hook up. The brief
popularity of video dating serviceswhere one had to visit an agency to see profiles
a la Love Connection is another example of dating during the transitory period
between print advertisements and true online dating.
The mail-order bride industry represents another precursor to modem Internet
dating. Where the industry formerly operated from print advertisements in
newspapers and magazines, the advent of the Internet in the 1990s increased the
popularity of such services. Primarily, international mail order brides were sought by
Western males and these sites gained widespread popularity in Asia, Russia, and
Latin America as an offshoot of the sex-trafficking trade (Schaeffer-Grabiel 2006).
The Rise of Internet Dating and Related Websites
Internet dating is the use of websites that provide a database of potential
partners that one can browse and contact, generally for a fee (Sautter, Tippett &
Morgan 2006:1). Such sites facilitate seamless personal connections en route to face-
to-face contact and continued relationships and represent a substantial evolution from
earlier online attempts to foster relationships which consisted of long-distance chat-
room conversations with little chance of progressing ftirther (Sautter, Tippett &
Morgan 2006). Fundamentally, these early Internet dating sites were not much
different from traditional newspaper services in that they offered a medium through
which individuals advertised themselves; however, they replaced the faceless
personal ads, with their cryptic abbreviations (Sautter, Tippett & Morgan 2006) with
more in-depth profiles, photos, and fanciful essays for potential suitors to see
(Gleason 2009), giving users the impression that they were quickly gaining more
knowledge about one another and more rapidly eliminating the possibility of mystery
or future disappointment.
The first instance of computer-enabled matchmaking occurred in the 1960s
when two Harvard math students utilized an IBM 1401 computer to match individuals
by comparing data derived from questionnaires (Hardey 2004). The subsequent
company they formedCompatibility Research, Inc.launched the first computer-
mediated dating service, Operation Match. While originally dubbed scientific
matching because expensive computer time was rented on a room-size IBM computer
on the Harvard campus; this giant computer lent Operation Match an air of credibility
and perhaps as a result, a powerful marketing tool: the use of computers was
considered cutting edge in 1965 (Rapp 2005). Operation Match represented the
threshold from where modem Internet matching sites have evolved to utilize
increasingly complex profiling and screening tools (Hardey 2004). Though one factor
that the technology of Operation Match failed to address at the time was the chaotic
factor of the human element: biased self-reporting (Rapp 2005). As discussed, infra,
the modem "scientific" approaches promise similar results using the screening and
compatibility protocols developed in these early computer matches, indicating that
the deferral to the computer as an "authority" in the dating process has been growing
steadily over the past 45 years. This constitutes an adequate period of time to permit
this new tradition to permeate the social fabric and become a part of the modem
dating ritual itself.
Bulletin Board Services and Chat Rooms
Usemet systems emerged in 1979 in order to enable users to post articles or
news items to various online newsgroups (Bidgoli 2003). Bulletin board services
(BBS) also emerged in the late 1970s, typically hosted on private computers into
which users had to dial through the host modem to read and leave messages (Bidgoli
2003). BBS services was extremely slow due to the dial-up modems and the fact that
only one user at a time could gain access to the host modem; however, this
represented the first type of site allowing users to log on and interact with other users
(Bidgoli 2003). Shortly thereafter, in the early 1980s, online service providers such as
CompuServe, Prodigy, and Genie sought to incorporate chat programs as part of their
offerings. The primary drawback of these services was their expense which was
typically assessed on a per-hour basis combined with the requisite long-distance
service which could run as high as $30 per hour (Merkle & Richardson 2000).
The early 1990s witnessed a rapid expansion of networked chat rooms, BBS,
and discussion groups oriented around various topics and geographies (Bidgoli 2003).
Such BBS and discussion groups did not necessarily develop strictly for dating;
however, this was an unintended side effect and mimicked what was occurring with
newspaper personals. As the trend continued some Internet service providers (ISPs)
such as Prodigy and America Online heavily marketed chat rooms and forums geared
specifically toward singles (History). Cyber-communication evolved from being
merely a means to an end into an end in itself where individuals could satisfy their
emotional and psychological needs for interpersonal relatedness and sexual desires
virtually and sometimes even anonymously somewhere in Cyberspace (Philaretou &
Mahfouz 2007:8). These services combined the technologies of the telephone, already
in place for over 75 years, with the home computer, but still lacked the utilization of
the computer's active assistance in choosing a suitable partner; users still needed to
read and analyze personals-type ads, and exercise their own authority and-judgment
about potential partners. While these early on-line communications lacked the
"scientific basis" promised by later technologies, they helped initiate the new ritual
that would define modem Internet dating: the solitary ritual of sending out, and
receiving, relationship-based information via the computer keyboard.
The earliest major strictly-dating-related Internet website arose from the
combination ofMatch.com and Kiss.comregistered in 1994 and 1995 by the same
individualand broadened the dating sphere considerably (History). By 1996 there
were over 16 major dating Websites with many achieving the level of usage enjoyed
by their predecessors (History). The impressive growth in the dot-com industry of
the early 2000s added fuel to the already-ablaze fire.
One of the downfalls of these early sites was the mass collection of
photographs and basic profiles to full the sites databases. Consequently, one would
be barraged by a large response to virtually nonexistent search criteria and a chance
of finding that special someone would be diminished significantly. More recent
dating sites such as ChanceToMeet.com have developed better search criteria and
tools like connect phrases to individualize and improve the search process (Burke
2007). While these sites continue to retain a respectable portion of the online-dating
sector the emergence of social-networking websites and scientifically-based online
matching services, which claim to use science to determine compatibility, has
saturated the market most recently. The emergence of no-charge dating and matching
sites have increased the competition with those which charge membership fees;
however, many believe that the quality of such sites, especially those that make
scientific claims, is commensurate with the fee paid for its use which explains why
fee-based dating sites continue to be profitable. Nevertheless, free sites accounted for
one-quarter of all traffic among the top-10 American online dating sites in 2009,
representing a 15% increase from the previous year (Kharif 2009).
In the vast expanses of online dating, the newest sites boast personality testing
to match applicants on certain dimensions which have been allegedly scientifically
proven to increase compatibility. eHarmony was launched in 2000 due to website
owner Dr. Neil Clark Warrens belief that there was a better way to bring people
together, according to the companys website. By employing a variety of
psychological professionals and interviewing thousands of happy couples the
eHarmony personality profile was developed. Not to be outdone, the developers of
Match.com created PerfectMatch.com in 2003 which was followed by
Chemistry.comowned by Match.comin 2006.
Enjoying the benefits of these more complicated sites requires a substantially
greater financial commitment with membership packages which cost as much as
$60/month. While non-paying, or guest, members can take the compatibility tests and
submit a profile they are not permitted to review their matches without becoming paid
members. These types of dating sites have become so ubiquitous that one out of eight
marriages in 2007 was the result of an online meeting (Gleason 2009).
The Increase in Computer-Mediated Dating Sites
Internet dating sites have experienced impressive growth since 1999 when
only two percent of Americans had utilized online personal or dating services
(Sautter, Tippett & Morgan 2006). By 2002, the number had increased to 25% and
the online dating industry had flourished into an over-$300 million industry and by
2004 the numbers increased again, netting the industry over $400 million that year
(Sautter, Tippett & Morgan 2006). By 2006 the number was an astounding $650
million, making Internet dating the second highest online industry for paid content
behind pornography (King, Austin-Oden & Lohr 2009; Kharif 2004). This figure has
again increased dramatically to over $900 million in 2007 (Kim, Kyoung-Nan & Mira
Possible reasons for this impressive growth are threefold: technological
innovations; demographic changes; and the greater societal acceptability of Internet
dating (Sautter, Tippett & Morgan 2006; Hardey 2002). Technology has expanded to
the point where more people than ever have computers and Internet access, the rise in
divorce rates has created a larger pool of single people who are taking advantage of
the opportunities, and the removal of the stigma formerly associated with Internet
dating have contributed to its growth. Additional factors responsible for this growth
are the increase in virtual proximity and the reduced visual and auditory cues central
to online communication which facilitate self-disclosure during the early stages of
any new relationship (Valkenburg & Peter 2007; Philaretou & Mahfouz 2007).
The popularity of online dating websites has expanded to the point where
there are innumerable specific sites for whatever dating preference one has. Dating
and matchmaking websites based upon sexual orientation, religion, fetishes, hobbies,
diet, and even for illicit affairs have cropped up in large numbers and continue to
expand, thus enabling advertisers to utilize these motivating factors behind online
dating to increase traffic to their respective sites (Kim, Kyoung-Nan, and Mira 2009).
Even amidst the seemingly-infinite number and types of online dating websites, a
body of research suggests that the most active online daters are individuals past their
40s as many of them have experienced divorce or loss of a spouse, have children and
busy careers, and that the younger crowd has been drawn to social-networking sites.
In fact, divorceescomprising only 8% of the adult Internet audienceare over three
times more likely to use online dating sites than the average Internet user,
representing 27% of dating-site users (Valkenburg & Peter 2007). In light of this
obvious popularity and broad-based appeal to Internet users, the question of Internet
dating's promises and protocols remain: how do these sites claim to reify the
transformed dating tradition, and is there a reliable method for determining the
validity of their claims?
Scientific Claims of Internet Dating
In this section, I describe how eHarmony.com, Chemistry.com, and
Perfectmatch.com purport to use science to be more effective in finding compatible
partners for their members. My aim is to highlight the implementation of
rationalization (e.g., science) in this new form of courtship.
The initial appeal of online dating sites was the relative anonymity it offers;
however, with a number of newer sites claiming they utilize scientifically based
mathematical algorithms with which to match members for lasting, long-term
relationship fulfillment, the temptation has increased. Due to the rapid growth in the
industry this new competition has exploded, enjoying the success of earlier basic
online dating websites which permit members to peruse other members profiles in
search of love.
eHarmony.com, Chemistry.com, and Perfectmatch.com represent the newest
generation of dating websites with each crediting their success on the idea that long-
term romantic compatibility can be predicted according to scientific principles and
their questionnaires are designed to help their members find lasting love (Gottlieb
2006:58). Such tests purport to measure how individuals handle conflict and behave
socially and what is important to them in terms of romance, money, and other
relationship-related issues (Fiore 2002). Accordingly, such technological
advancements have been touted as creating new opportunities to test the quality and
longevity of intimate relationships far beyond the superficiality of more traditional
online dating sites (King, Austin-Oden & Lohr 2009). eHarmony.com,
Chemistry.com, and Perfectmatch.com each lay claim to a methodological angle that
surpasses in quality to their competitors: eHarmony places significant emphasis on
long-term aspects of compatibility to achieve success, despite a possible lack of short-
term attraction; Chemistry.com emphasizes short-term attraction without losing sight
of long-term compatibility; and Perfectmatch.com lies between the two other sites,
offering the prospect of both short- and long-term relationships. While each of these
sites possesses similarities in their matching algorithm the question remains as to
whether these alleged scientific methods yield better results. Because of the hype of
claims of a scientific foundation much more scrutiny has been attached to these sites
amidst the steady growth of membership.
eHarmony essentially pioneered the compatibility-matching protocol and is
currently the only online matchmaking site that has patented its personality profile
US Patent Number 6,735,568compared with the others which claim that their tests
are also scientifically-based (King, Austin-Oden & Lohr 2009; Houran et al. 2004).
According to founder Dr. Neil Clark Warren, differences will exist between couples,
but it is the similarities which predict the success of any relationship (eHarmony.com.
2010). eHarmony contends that if individual qualities such as emotional temperament
and social style, for example, are comparable then a couple has a greater chance of
finding long-term relationship satisfaction. Chemistry is simply not enough to
guarantee lasting relationship success.
Galen Buckwalter, eHarmonys vice president of research and development,
recruited a number of top relationship experts and researchers to help develop
eHarmonys exhaustive 436-question personality survey that is used as the foundation
for matching its members based upon the assumption that humans have an inherent
drive to know themselves inside and out (Gottlieb 2006; Cullen, Masters, Woo &
Singh 2008). Buckwalter was an assistant professor studying hormonal effects on
human cognition when Warren contacted him to assist with eHarmonys launch and
together they identified pertinent areas predictive of long-term relationship success by
interviewing over 5,000 happily-married and satisfied couples and utilizing the
dyadic adjustment scale to measure responses (Gottlieb 2006; King, Austin-Oden &
Lohr 2009; Tierney 2008). In this model, core traits refer to defining aspects of who
[one is] that remain largely unchanged through [ones] adult life (eHarmony.com
2010: par. 3). After identifying core-trait compatibility as the crucial link Warren and
Buckwalter set eHarmony in motion.
EHarmony claims that its scientifically facilitated marriages are successful
(eHarmony.com 2010); however, there is simply not enough data to determine if the
compatibility measure upon which the company relies is predictive of long-term
relationship success. Nevertheless, Buckwalter asserts that eHarmonys algorithm
specifically addresses long-term aspects. Because short-term attraction and long-term
satisfaction are completely different, eHarmonys matching process has some
members initially put off by initial matches because, for example, there may be no
immediate physical attraction (Gottlieb 2006). This is precisely why eHarmony does
not permit its members to search for potential matches themselves, which is the
antithesis of the older computer and print-ad based services and an even deeper
indication of the perceived scientific authority of the computer algorithm. The
purported underlying rationale behind this is that evidence exists which indicates that
the temptation to search larger numbers of profiles reduces the quality of the search
and the subsequent choices made by the individual (Wu & Chiou 2009).
Unlike eHarmony, Chemistry.com has a short-term attraction facet built into
its matching system because it believes that while the new scientific approach is
beneficial in the long run many members did not want long-term satisfaction at the
expense of romantic chemistry (Gottlieb 2006:63). To address this issue, the
company sought the services of Dr. Helen Fisher to insert her knowledge of the
neural chemistry of people in love to develop its compatibility questionnaire
(Tugend 2009). There are fundamental chemicals which are linked with certain
personality traits which are predictive of chemistry and compatibility (Tugend 2009).
To develop Chemistry.coms questionnaire, Dr. Fisher compared those
offered on similar sites and discovered that they all focused upon background, values,
interests, and goals; however, she argued that chemistry is equally important
(Chemistry.com 2010). The theoretical foundation for Chemistry.coms research rests
upon identifying neuro-hormonal mechanisms of temperament based on similarity
and complementarity and the study of brain scans by Dr. Fisher which offer
additional insight into compatibility (King, Austin-Oden & Lohr 2009:52; Better
Loving 2005:par. 6). In other words, it seeks to combine short-term chemistry and
attraction with long-term compatibility and success by gathering brain and body
chemistry information related to ones personality and temperament and identifying
matches based upon such data (Frazzetto 2010).
At the heart of the research underlying Chemistry.coms theories is a 56-item
questionnaire that incorporates aspects of the Myers-Briggs Personality Test. The
questions and submitted answers attempt to classify individuals into one of four
primary personality types: explorers, builders, directors, and negotiators (King,
Austin-Oden & Lohr 2009). According to Dr. Fisher, each type is theoretically and
distinctively linked to various hormones: explorers have larger levels of dopamine
and norepinephrine; builders have higher amounts of serotonin; directors,
testosterone; and negotiators, estrogen and oxytocin (King, Austin-Oden & Lohr
2009; Chemistry.com 2010). Subsequently, each individual is assigned a primary and
secondary personality type of one of the four based upon test results. Compatibility is
ensured by matching personality types between potential matches and, unlike
eHarmony, Chemistry.com matches on similarities and differences for complete
compatibility, not simply the former (Better Loving 2005). This approach attempts
to bring the "objective science" of brain and hormonal composition into the dating
game, indicating the primacy of the purported science in this company's rationalized
discourse. In Weberian terms, interpersonal chemistry, or the magical and emotive
aspects of life, are subsumed by logic and reason.
Perfectmatch.com boasts its proprietary Duet total Compatibility System
which was co-developed by Dr. Pepper Schwartz, renowned relationship expert and
sociologist (Perfectmatch.com 2010). The company claims that this system is based
upon more than 15 years of research investigating personality, values, ideals, life and
love style, preferences, love, and money to match their clients; however, no further
substantiation is available (Houran et al. 2004). According to the website, this system
has proven to be more effective than any matchmaking service on the Web and
cites among client testimonials positive endorsements of its methods from
academicians with university affiliation (Perfectmatch.com 2010:par. 2; Houran et
al. 2004:509). The site also references the Myers Briggs Type Indicator test as
providing the impetus for its theoretical applications. Like Chemistry.com, the site
also references the Myers Briggs Type Indicator test as providing the impetus for its
theoretical applications, but lacks the pretense of Chemistry.com's claim to
implement the "hard science" of purported hormonal indicators.
Analysis of Purported Compatibility Tests
The compatibility tests are aligned with Levingers (1986) four fundamental
perspectives on compatibility: relationship among partner values, personalities, and
predispositions; patterns of accommodation; adaptability in the face of conflict; and
temporal changes in preferences, goals, and dispositions (Houran et al. 2004).
Accordingly, the underlying theoretical aspects of the tests seek to integrate these
perspectives into the matching process. Even where offline dating is different than
online dating these compatibility issues are essentially the same.
One significant shortcoming of personality profiles in Internet dating sites is
that they are lacking peer review because the foundational algorithm is not provided
to either the scientific world or to the companys members. eHarmony does not even
show members how they are compatible to their alleged matches (King, Austin-Oden
& Lohr 2009); their methodology is so confidential it brings to light questions of
reliability, transparency, and scientific basis (Houran et al. 2004). Further, there is
little scientific evidence that its system actually works. To address this, Buckwalter
says that a longitudinal study is underway toward the goal of peer-reviewed research ;
however, the intimate details of the algorithm will not be disclosed (Tierney 2008).
Conversely, due to the patent on Chemistry.corns personality-matching protocol,
their algorithm is both clearly defined and publicly available. Nevertheless, these
psychological matching tests require equally remarkable scientific evidence that
controls for extraneous and confounding variables to ensure efficacy (King, Austin-
Oden & Lohr 2009:54). In other words, without the actual formula to examine then
the science behind the testing is questionable and any claims of scientific validity
cannot be corroborated (Houran et al. 2004).
Another problem with these sites is that some individuals will not be accepted
for membership upon completion of the questionnaires. Particularly with
eHarmonywhich tells rejected individuals that the company chose not to provide its
service rather than risk an uncertain matchthere is an obvious dearth of
information which reveals the underlying reasons for such rejection (Romance.com
2006:43-4). In a similar vein, there is a concern of false negatives. Tests which
determine in advance whom one may meet and whom one will never meet fails to
allow certain people to meet who would adore each other (Epstein 2007:8). Because
eHarmony does not permit members to search other profiles and expects them to
pursue relationships only with those the algorithm determined were compatible the
true extent of potentially positive relationships is never known. Due to the lack of
permissible user control, eHarmony's approach echoes the arranged marriage rituals
of decades ago by replacing parental authority and expertise with that of the
algorithm. If eHarmony's claims of pragmatic, empirical success are legitimate in real
life and not merely theoretical (or, at worst, mere commercial jargon and sales
puffery), their approach may be in consonance with the techno-rationality described
by Marcuse (Marcuse  1991) and Adorno and Horkheimer (1944).
While there has been reported success of matches with these systems it would
be imprudent to assert that any of these formulas are perfect (Gottlieb 2006). The
majority of individuals are attracted to those with whom they share similar
demographics, attitudes, and values (Heino, Ellison & Gibbs 2005). The scientific
aspect of online matchmaking purports to remove the uncertainty of comparison from
the masses to give individuals the best chances for long-term relationship success;
however, by relying strictly upon the science and nevertheless failing to obtain the
desired match, users might allege flaws within the algorithm itself, particularly if
website members are not permitted to search for themselves in addition to receiving
site-based matches. Nevertheless, beneficial claims of compatibility testing are
increasing while psychologists continue to perfect the love algorithm toward the goal
of putative relationship perfection.
The competition in this new frontier of online matchmaking is so fierce that
eHarmony and Chemistry.com have been at each others virtual throats with
Chemistry.com accusing eHarmony of being prejudicial to non-heterosexual couples
and eHarmony claiming that Chemistry.coms algorithm has not, like the company
claims, been scientifically validated (Tierney 2008). Chemistry.com does claim that
there is an abundance of data which have predicted consistency when matches are
made under this method and that the results will be subjected for peer review in the
near future. Dr. Fisher asserts that the company believes in transparency and is
committed to providing it to the public and to Chemistry.coms members (Tierney
This scientific impetus is illustrated in the more recent trend of using genetics
to match people. For example, Genepartner.coma Swiss companywill test
someones DNA for $99 and give them a GenePartner ID which, along with another
fee, enables someone to search for their genetic soulmate (Tugend 2009:6).
GenePartner.com promises genetically based long-term relationships based upon
differences between [members] immune systems (Frazzetto 2010:25). Questions
remain as to whether genetics (or, for example, hormonal analyses) are a better
predictor of long-term relationship success based this purported "harder" science,
rather than the new wave of personality-based compatibility tests that not only remain
unproven but are constrained by traditional romantic discourse.
At any rate, while there has been reported success with compatibility testing
in the online dating sector, again, the problem is how to effectively gauge the sites
success in the absence of publicly provided empirical data. eHarmony argues that its
high marriage rate33,000 marriages among members in 2005 aloneis a testament
to its success (Gottlieb 2006). Longitudinal studies are necessary to measure the
longevity of these computer-facilitated marriages before any concrete conclusions
should be drawn. Also, as previously mentioned, more transparency in the algorithms
themselves coupled with empirical evidence is necessary. Short-term success in terms
of high marriage rates is not conclusive for it fails to address the big picture.
Nevertheless, the basic tenets of rationalization have unequivocally impacted this
industry. The science that has catalyzed these changes, whether sound or not, is
clearly present. But the vestiges of tradition that are commingled with the science, are
inadequately accounted for by social theorists of rationalization. This lacuna is
addressed when I utilize the concepts of legitimacy, co-optation, and loose coupling
found in organizational theories such as resource dependency theory.
CO-OPTATION OF TRADITION
According to Weber (1962), rationalization has eliminated individuality by
reducing the human to a mechanistic element. The thesis of detraditionalization
maintains that rationalization has shifted from magic and external controls to a
growing emphasis on the self. If this was so, and individuals were Orwellian robots in
a dystopic, utterly rationalized society, one would expect technical communication to
be solely, if not exclusively, rationalistic, eschewing any form of romantic, emotional
discourse. Nevertheless, one sees traditional beliefs that should have been long ago
displaced by scientifically based beliefs, persist in particular realms. Courtship is one
such instance. Initially traditional in that it promoted betrothal as being oriented to
social rather than to private benefit (and the courtship process was, therefore, closely
controlled), Enlightenment and the technological growth converted courtship into a
self-oriented process, and an ego-centered process of dating ensued. Dating has
become a more rationalized process; at the same time, traditional sentiments and
This can be seen in the scientific agencies that have established themselves to
founder marriage based on scientific principles. Although their data have never been
conclusively proved, online romantic matchmaking organizations such as e-Harmony
succeed in marketing their premise that science rather than romantic or traditional
notions can predict, predicate, and dictate concepts such as chemistry and marital
longevity. E-Harmony goes as far as to discourage casual dating. Each of these
employs different pragmatic standards, reducing emotional constructs to mechanistic
factors. Nevertheless, romantic or traditional constructs are still associated with their
websites, particularly in the marketing arena.
The problem, consequently, is the following: Rationalization postulates that
society has displaced tradition and magic by its increasingly rationalized discourse.
Detraditionalization, on the other hand, theorizes that tradition or magic or symbols of
external control (authority) have disappeared and have been replaced by self-
autonomy and self-absorption. The problem is, however, that if this were so, one
would be living in a world where rationalization or science would have long ago
eliminated all forms of tradition and romanticism. Despite the unprecedented growth
of rationalistic discourse, superstitious, mythic, magic, or traditional factors persist
such as in self-help, new Ageism, arguably holistic healing, and religious
fundamentalism. One such platform is courtship, which although more rationalized,
persists in couching itself in, and employing traditional terms. Given that tradition
(elements of courtship in this case), being meaningless and non-scientific (or
magical in essence), should have been consigned to the past, one wonders, firstly,
why vestiges still remain and, secondly, why they are promoted by the very
organizations that actively disprove their validity. This thesis employs
neoinstitutionalism to explain why this is so.
Neoinstitutionalism is a school of research in sociological organizational
theory that suggested that organizations rather than shaped by internal constraints,
gain and maintain their support from external constituencies, such as the public
(Meyer & Scott 1992; Pfeffer & Salancik 1978). Neo institutionalism, unlike old
institutionalism, is analytic not descriptive; it attempts to explain institutions not
simply describe them (Darity 2007). As represented in this thesis, it essentially
explains that organizations such as e-Harmony manipulate traditional strategies for
the continued effectiveness of their ventures. They do this through two methods
called co-opting and loose coupling (Pfeffer & Salancik 1978). Co-opting is the
strategy employed when a stronger organization incorporates weaker more vulnerable
elements seeking to manipulate these resources while controlling its undesirable
elements and determining that they remain under its own jurisdiction (Meyer & Scott,
1992; Pfeffer & Salancik, 1978; Pedersen & Volberda, 1997; Suchman, 1995). The
resources are possessed and used solely towards the procuring organizations own
Loose coupling works to the same ends, where users are encouraged to extract
or detract certain traditional aspects showcased by the organization, rendering them
more or less appealing according to personal preferences. It is in this way that
rationalized organizations gain some sort of legitimacy whereby the public recognize
and acknowledge the value of the companys product, thus seeking to procure it. In
other words, the product rather than being controversial conforms to sociopolitical
mores. This form of legitimization is essential for the continuance of the companys
organization, enabling them to attract and maintain peoples membership by
incorporating sociopolitical mores (Meyer & Scott, 1992; Pfeifer & Salancik, 1978;
Pedersen & Volberda, 1997; Suchman, 1995). Summarily, rather than love, emotion,
or magic being the driving forces of rationalization, it is money, objectivity and
science that compels rationalization to adopt traditional terminology despite
scientifically based beliefs long ago having displaced them.
Through applying concepts of co-optation and loose coupling, these so-called
scientific organizations grant themselves a certain form of legitimacy that enables
them to bolster and ground their organization on social/ environmental acceptability.
It is in this way that the institution of courtship is able to maintain the continuity of
traditional beliefs in the face of rationalization and detraditionalization because it has
used (or co-opted) the romanticism of traditional sentiment to propagandize and
support the prestige and legitimacy that science possesses. Co-optation, therefore,
could be seen as an economical tool that is necessarily (although, perhaps, reluctantly
since the company might not always agree with the characteristics of the involved
product) used by the company in order to serve its larger needs (Suchman, 1995). The
traditional element survives only due to its appeal in incorporating itself into a
rational social organization for pragmatic or rationalizing principles. It is in this way
that neoinstitutionalism explains the endurance of tradition despite the Weberian
prediction of rationalistic domination.
Todays market place intensively represents the process of bureaucratization
that Weber (1962) observed and that critics, such as Foucault (1984), vehemently
criticized. On the other hand, certain elements (such as incorporating magical
rhetoric in marketing stratagems) seem to contradict a fully adequate picture of a
rationalized, modem world of organizations. It is for this reason that theories of
organizational change need to be brought in order to provide a more informative
explanation of a hybrid phenomenon that assimilates rationalization with discarded
Working within the paradigm of neoinstitutionalism, resource dependency
theorists (e.g., Pfeffer, Salancik, Ulrich and Barney) argue that organizations that lack
resources will seek to establish contacts with those who possess them. Also that
organizations will attempt to minimize their dependence on these other organizations
by making these assistant organizations more dependent on them. Organizations are,
in this way, viewed, as coalitions that acquire and modify existent patterns of
behavior in order to acquire and maintain needed resources. Acquiring these external
resources is safeguarded by decreasing the organizations dependence on others and /
or by increasing the others dependence on it. One organization is, therefore,
sublimated under another, the other now benefiting from its resources (Ulrich &
Barney, 1984; Medcof, 2001). Logically this makes sense since organizations that fail
to address their critical problems, will disappear. Nonetheless, there has been little
empirical testing to prove this point (Pedersen & Volberda, 2007).
Resource dependency theorists also make use of the concept of isomorphism
which describes the process that forces one organization to adopt the same set of
behaviors as others in its environment in order to succeed (Hawley, 1968).
Organizations are traditionally seen as distinct and bounded units, but, in reality, quite
the opposite is the case. Responding directly to environmental structures,
organizations, as Meyer and Rowan (1977) maintain, "structurally reflect socially
constructed reality (p. 346). According to DiMaggio and Powell (1983) there are
three types of isomorphism: coercive, mimetic, and normative.
Coercive isomorphism, is some sort of pressure exerted on the organization by
the environment, namely by cultural experiences in the society in which the
organization functions. Such pressure results in the need to join in collusion with the
necessary factor. Sometimes organizational change is a response to a government
mandate, for instance, pollution control (the necessity of having to conform to new
environmental regulations); other times, other legal and technical requirements of the
state shift the organization in differential ways. In fact, as Meyer and Rowan (1977)
have argued, the more the rationalized organizations have to expand their dominion
over arenas of social life, the more they have to absorb externalized resources and are,
in turn, influenced by these external controls. All of this is relevant to our thesis since
it expands on and contributes to the paradigm of neoinstitutionalism.
Organizations are shaped by various external controls. For instance,
government laws that institute equal employment of ethnic minorities and gender.
The organization is, consequently, constrained to procure certain people on their staff
even if they would have necessarily preferred to have excluded those people or to
have ignored that specific gender. Government control is not the only coercive factor
for organizational change. Environmental or sociopolitical influences are
determining factors too. When the organization in question indicates that it coheres
with sociopolitical mores, it is more likely to gain some sort of legitimization.
According to rational dependency theory and according to its sub-category
isomorphism, legitimacy is the condition that is achieved when the organizations
actions are aligned with environmental expectations of organizational behavior.
Legitimacy is gained when organizations meet norms and expectations of the social
system (Meyer & Rowan, 1977; Meyer & Scott, 1992). This shows their worthiness
to gamer resources needed for organizational survival. Suchman (1995) elaborates:
Legitimacy is a generalized perception or assumption that the actions of
an entity are desirable, proper, or appropriate within some socially
constructed system of norms, values, beliefs and definitions (p. 572).
Rather than local levels of experience, which could more readily be seen as
competition, legitimacy is seen as a state of mind that comes from established
patterns of cultural authority as promulgated by nationwide or cultural mores and
attitudes (Meyer & Rowan, 1977). This factor is well illustrated in our thesis where
rationalized organizations, like e-Harmony, or other online dating agencies decided to
incorporate traditional elements in order to serve as stratagems for rendering their
science patently attractive and logically possible, and for enabling survival in a world
where elements of a previous courtship process remain appealing and attractive.
Instead of the organization being an autonomous, self-directed actor pursuing
its own ends, external control, as paraphrased by Pfeffer and Salancik (1977), sees
organizations as being other-directed, constantly having to focus on legitimacy as
defined by environment and cultural mores in order to succeed in their constant
struggle for autonomy and longevity. As opposed to the traditional idea of
organizational efficiency that defined efficiency as being internally defined by the
organization (originating from its internal goals and conceptualizations),
organizational effectiveness has been redefined to include the extent that
organizations manage to meet the criteria of external environmental or sociopolitical
standards. The effectiveness of an organization, therefore, depends more on how it is
viewed by factors external to its control than by its own definitions, ideology, or
standards. Consequently, constraints and external control occasionally compel the
organization to adopt agendas or actions contrary to its philosophy in order to
maintain and retain its structure.
Constraints determine the actions that the organization must take and these
actions are, in turn, predicated by the magnitude of exchange needed. Organizational
change, furthermore, is also dependent on how critical this exchange or amount of
resources is to the organization in question. That this is so can be evidenced by the
phenomenon of Internet dating where, scientific and rationalistic organizations persist
by reinforcing an idealized notion of romantic love. This ideal is socially constructed
so as to embody the dominant ideology of heterosexuality, marriage and procreation.
Internet dating websites evoke this notion by employing magical rhetoric such as
love, soulmate kindred spirit and so forth, even though some of these very
organizations have long ago pronounced such terminology to be meaningless and
It is in this way that organization theories contribute to rationalization and
detraditionalism by, even though corroborating the fact that society has indeed
become increasingly rationalized and detraditionalized, aspects of magic,
nevertheless, remain and rationalistic organizations, though not necessarily approving
of those concepts, have to incorporate them in order to guarantee organizational
Organizations cannot survive if they do not respond to the demands of their
environments, specifically if those demands are sociopolitical factors. However, the
organizations very act of transacting or exchanging resources with an external
organization, modifies, constrains and shaped some of the demands, pressures, and
behaviors of the organization itself. Being that all formal organizations are molded by
forces tangential to their rationally ordered structures and stated goals, some factors
such as rationalization may have to be de-emphasized. This was so in TVAs case
(Philip, 1949) and is so, too, in the case of the dating agencies. Such sacrifice may
contradict its objectives and stated agenda; nevertheless, for it to survive, the decision
to modify its behavior will ensue. This is particularly so when the resource in
question is imperative to the survival of the organization.
That this is so helps us understand the behavior of dating agencies such as e-
Harmony. Though promoting and exhibiting a rationalistic approach, online dating
agencies are compelled to incorporate traditional messages as part of their packaging.
Traditional courtship might be a thing of the past it can never be revitalized since
rationalization has introduced a dehumanized man and decrease in tradition. The
world has become increasingly rationalized; nevertheless economic sense dictates the
incorporation of traditional phraseology. It is in this way that the concept of
neoinstitutionalism is invaluable in informing and contributing to present
understanding of rationalization and detraditionalism.
Weber (1962) theorized that rationalization developmental^ reduced magic
to technical or scientific terms, while perhaps alienating and objectifying individuals.
The world, being increasingly subjected to rationalization, should have long ago
rejected magical terms and beliefs. Nevertheless, magic lingers, and one field in
which this is most evident rationalistic though it has become is in the area of
courtship. At one time structured so as to be instrumental to purely societal
objectives courtship contained rituals and protocols such as bundling and a lengthy
romantic correspondence. Technology caused courtship to evolve into dating; a
process that became a more casual, if not marriage-oriented affair, and more reliant
on both the self for judgment and as of late, a science of compatibility. Though
sentiments of traditional courtship should have disappeared in the context of
scientific Internet dating, we continue to see the persistent elements of traditional
behavior and thought. This has raised the question as to why these rationalized
organizations, such as eHarmony, include traditional elements in their presentation. I
have argued that in order to survive (or make money) a rationalized organization, like
eHarmony, has essentially co-opted (Pfeffer and Salancik 1978) traditional elements.
By applying the concepts of legitimacy, co-optation and loose coupling found in
Resource Dependency Theory (Pfeffer and Salancik 1978), concepts which describe
how institutions survive in ever-changing environments. Thus we come to a better
understanding of how the institution of courtship is able to maintain the continuity of
its traditional beliefs in the face of rationalization. The concepts invoked to
understand the existence of traditional elements in the context of scientific Internet
dating websites presented in this thesis by no means provide an exhaustive, complete
picture. These concepts at best are used as a means to sensitize us to both the
limitations of rationalization and the possibilities of adopting neoinstitutionalism as
an augmentative theoretical device.
Although the paradigm of neoinstitutionalism and the theory of resource
dependency provide useful tools for elucidating the phenomenon of Internet dating,
they have little to say about the roles of commodification and inequality. The fact that
websites such as eHarmony are offering a paid service presupposes that its clients
possess the time and money necessary to purchase a soulmate. This colonization of
the lifeworld by the imperative of the market not only desacralizes the very notion of
love that these websites celebrate, but it brings with it a model of the consumer as a
self-interested, utility-maximizing monad. It is not clear how traditional notions of
love as a life-long bond of support and sacrifice are compatible with the ideal type of
a savvy consumer. Furthermore, consumers do not enter the dating market with equal
financial and social resources. Similar ground has already been broken by Eva Illouz
in her book, Consuming the Romantic Utopia (1997), where she deconstructs images
from the mass media that shape our ideas of romantic love. She ultimately discovers
that the experience we have come to regard as true love is actually a construction
rooted deeply in our experiences as a consumer in a capitalistic society. Pursuing
further research along these lines, I believe, will yield interesting insights into the
human condition as it relates to love.
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