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Technologies of hospitality: How planned encounters develop between strangers

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Abstract:

New technologies in use today like CouchSurfing.com are allowing people to create planned encounters, en masse, between other strangers. These 'technologies of hospitality' are producing new rules of engagement, and new relationships that blur the boundaries between friend, acquaintance, stranger and enemy – boundaries that are yet to be defined. This article will show that while mobility inevitably causes strangers to collide and interact, certain technologies of hospitality in use today create conditions for strangers to meet one another and engage in acts of hospitality – moments of intimacy, closeness or mutual understanding. This article outlines the process by which two strangers become close using one such technology: CouchSurfing.org. While such encounters foster trust, mutual learning and 'personal growth', closeness is not always altruistic and technologies of hospitality also allow people involved to exert their status and power during interaction, creating moments of tension, awkwardness or distrust. Using multi-method ethnography, this article provides an in-depth account of these technologies of hospitality, focusing on the relationships being created as well as the problems that arise for the way in which we define friendship and closeness today.

Keywords: CouchSurfing; hospitality; mobility; offline; stranger; technology

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1386/hosp.1.3.245_1

Affiliations: Lancaster University

Publication date: February 16, 2012

More about this publication?
  • Hospitality & Society is an international multidisciplinary social sciences journal focusing upon hospitality and exploring its connections with wider social and cultural processes and structures. The journal welcomes submissions from various disciplines and aims to be an interactive forum expanding frontiers of knowledge and contributing to the literature on hospitality social science. Articles that stimulate debate, discussion and exchange across disciplines are welcomed, as well as review essays or short topical pieces that are provocative and problematic in nature.
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