Algorithmic Configurations of Sexuality: Theoretical Foundations and Methodological Approaches

Shuaishuai Wang

Research output: Chapter in Book or Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


This chapter problematizes the view of algorithms as a technical concept, and suggests instead approaching them from a sociocultural perspective. I will argue that, far from being a concern for only software engineers or programmers, algorithms are a collaborative enterprise that involves multiple actors, including CEOs, content labelers, and ordinary users. This chapter thus calls for a study of algorithms as they are implemented in real-life scenarios, so as to counter the tendency to decontextualize, dislocate, and universalize algorithms as a form of impartial and objective knowledge about human society. Using the case of sexuality on three digital platforms, namely Douyin/TikTok, Aloha, and Twitter, I illustrate the complex algorithmic configurations of sexuality through the prisms of sexual identity, sociality, and affordances. It is argued that, while algorithms provide spaces for sexual expression and identification, they also (re)produce hierarchies in social and sexual networking, as they are categorized into biased clusters of interest and taste. In addition, the chapter offers tools for studying algorithmic systems as sociocultural phenomena. It includes a step-by-step guide to algorithmic ethnography, along with a qualitative method for repurposing recommendation algorithms into data sampling, that I refer to as the digital snowball method.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe SAGE Handbook of Digital Society
EditorsWilliam Housley, Adam Edwards, Roser Beneito-Montagut , Richard Fitzgerald
ISBN (Electronic)9781529785173, 9781529787153, 9781529789133
ISBN (Print)9781526498779
Publication statusPublished - 2023


  • Algorithms
  • sexuality
  • algorithmic ethnography
  • digital snowball method
  • TikTok


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