Category Gender and. Social Computing


Online personals, e-dating and matrimonial Web sites are changing the rules of how relationships are formed and maintained in communities all over the world. In societies where dating itself is taboo according to social and religious norms, online matrimonial services are filling the gap left by the absence of social networks in societies transition­ing to urban and modern culture. Since there are no established mores about using online media, the online matrimonial services mirror existing social practices. As the technology is used and appropriated by users, both social practices and the technology evolve. The use of online matrimonial services provides an interesting illustration of the social construction of technology.

The use of technology demonstrates a ten­sion created by the affordances provided by technology and entrenched social traditions and practices. The use of online services has diluted the societal norms about socializing among op­posite sexes but at the same time preserved traditional notions of compatibility by providing easy access to information about religion, caste and community. Although it is still not accept­able to go out on dates, online relationships are considered acceptable and allowed to continue over extended periods of time without parental supervision. Men and women who are seeking life partners are playing bigger roles in arranged marriage but still consider parents to be the final arbiters. Gender stereotypes continue to persist as women do not wish to give the appearance of driving the process but feel comfortable using the technology to actively participate in the process.

Online matrimonial services are not adopted as an instrument to bring about social change. To be accepted by families, they need to reflect and perpetuate societal and religious traditions and values. As they are recurrently used, the possibili­ties created by technology and its appropriation by users, creates a new equilibrium that reflects the new social reality created by technology and users. In the case of online matrimonial services, the subtle influence of technology cannot be overlooked as the use of online content, instant messaging and e-mail is expanding the influence of the younger generation over their elders in arranged marriage to create a new social norm that bears closer resemblance to western notions of marriage.

This has implications for the social construction of similar technologies in different societal and cultural contexts. When introducing new technolo­gies with social implications such as cell phones and wireless services, the initial adoption ofthese technologies is only likely to succeed if on the surface these technologies mirror the traditional norms ofbehavior and social interaction. However, the appropriation of these technologies by users over a period oftime brings about changes in social relationships and interactions. These changes, in their own way, change the structure and features of the technology, further driving social change. For example, India is one ofthe largest growth markets for the use of mobile phones and the phones were first used in India by affluent families and for busi­ness uses; over a period of time as prices came down, they found their way to the lower middle class, the rural areas and the self-employed such as street vendors and maids. In line with the new social classes that have adopted mobile phones, the technologies themselves changed to encour­age usage, such as the predominance of pre-paid phone plans, long battery life and the use of am/ fm radio as a standard feature, as these phones are used as music players by a majority of the population. This has further fueled the growth in the market of these phones in India.

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Our study investigates the influence oftechnology and its use on arranged marriage in India with the use of online matrimonial services. The study has several limitations in its present form. The nature of the research method creates limitations on replicability and generalizability of the study. As natives of the culture we were studying, we carried with us a tacit understanding of the so­cial backdrop of our study. While the additional insight allows us to see subtle differences and
changes and a more nuanced understanding of the phenomenon, at the same time, it creates the potential for subjectivity and bias.

Study subjects were Indians residing in India and did not include Indians residing in other countries who represented a significant propor­tion of users of online matrimonial services. The immersive nature of field study in ethnography made it difficult to study this segment as they visited India only for short periods of time and it was difficult to talk to them and observe them in a natural setting. However, among the families we studied, several had considered potential partners who were non-resident Indians.

Our study was conducted primarily in Mumbai and Delhi, which are large metropolitan cities. Culture, social mores and traditions differ signifi­cantly across urban and rural India. As a result, the narrative cannot be considered as reflective of India in general but primarily urban families. However, it should be noted that a majority of users of online matrimonial services reside in larger cities.

In our attempt to focus on the use of online matrimonial services, we did not study families that arranged marriages using more traditional methods. A more insightful comparison and con­
trast of the two different routes to arranged mar­riage would have helped to isolate the underlying changes driving the two processes.


Our analysis of the use of online matrimonial services for arranged marriages reveals the pos­sibilities created by technology and how they are appropriated by users. To many, the change may appear to be glacial in pace, but against the back­drop of a society that has a history and traditions dating back several millennia, they show shifting roles, changing traditions and convergence with the more modern view of marriage and family held by western culture. Information technology in the form of matrimonial Web sites creates both online and off-line possibilities for users as they go about the traditional process of finding life partners and new members for their families.

Families seeking partners for their marriage­able son or daughter typically operate in an information-sparse environment. Reliance on the friends and family network meant that much of the information was subjective, by word of mouth but embedded in the social context. The cryptic nature of information from classifieds and the commercial nature of third-party services created many challenges for families. The digital world, where space is not at a premium, creates a more information rich environment in which the search can be conducted. The relative anonym­ity and privacy provided by using the service at home or an Internet cafe reduces concerns about any social stigma that may be associated with having to rely on such services rather than social networks. Moreover, our data suggests that as the institution ofjoint family recedes from family life, any negative association about the use of such services is disappearing.

With online services, the role of immediate social network, classifieds and third-party bro­kerage services is disintermediated. Technology allows users to cut across boundaries created by distance and social networks allowing creating a larger pool of potential candidates. To ease the process of selection, all Web sites provide search tools for users to specify their criteria. All Web sites capture and allow search across traditional criteria of religion, caste, community, language in addition to age and economic background. This reflects the influence of social context on the design of Web sites. At the same time, the technology is reducing the need for this informa­tion. In an information-sparse environment, the application of these criteria as filters served as surrogate indicators of compatibility, ensuring that the families of the bride and groom had similar values and traditions. In an information-rich en­vironment where all kinds of information about habits, likes and dislikes is available, the need for surrogate indicators diminishes. This allows families and potential partners to express their subjective preferences that are more direct and reflect more rational criteria. As many of the Web sites are modeled after online personals popular in western cultures, these design elements in the form of such content and ability to communicate directly using e-mail and chat appear to engender a cultural convergence between western and Indian notions of partner selection. Some of the Web sites, as an indicator of such cultural convergence, provide dating services in addition to matchmak­ing services. Video profiles are also becoming an option that is used by some users on these sites.

The roles played by different family members in the process are also adjusting with the use of technology. Parents and/or other family act as gatekeepers to control the information flow from various sources as well as information about prospective matches. In the digital world, the information is (persistent) always available online and easily accessible to all members of the family. This weakens the role of parents as gatekeepers. It also changes the nature of the flow, which is more continuous as compared to the more episodic flow of classified advertisements and meeting with relatives or brokerage services. The continuous flow of information creates more opportunities for interaction among family members over casual conversations. The increased communication surfaces concerns of different family members, bridges role boundaries and generation gap, and helps creates a greater consensus within the family.

Perhaps one of the more significant changes made possible with online services is the ability to have direct communication with potential partners and their family. Online communication does not bear the same credence as face-to-face meeting in formal social settings. The relatively anonymous and informal nature of interaction reduces the

Figure 1. Change in SMI processes with the use of matrimonial Web sites

Подпись: Matchmaking luted on lijdlUoiul crittrljПодпись:

Infornution rkh mworwTVfit Provided enonymiry jnd privacy

Onuncf and geography no bar m finding the perfect match

Gender, role and cultural stereotypes persist in matrimonial ads
lmjil. chat jnd phone mtr*jetton [«tended courtship

Virtual dating may precede matchmaking limited parental supervision

Interaction brings to the fore credibility issues in online information

Background checks may still be performed offline

Family interaction reduced

Easier to disengage If match does not work


Reduced stigma in disengaging


•Disintermediation of Family
•Cultural Convergence
•Information Persistence and Accessibility
•Continuous rather than episodic information flow and communication
•Ease of engagement and disengagement
•Reduced Stigma
•Virtual Dating


perceived risk of adverse social consequences of allowing prospective partners to communicate directly. Furthermore, devoid of the context pro­vided by traditional social networks, families feel the need to allow more extensive communication between prospective partners to assess compat­ibility. This also allows the prospective partners to play a greater role in assessing compatibility and making choices further disintermediating the role of other family members in matching and selection. Figure 1 graphically presents the results of our study.


Perhaps the biggest change that online matrimonial services have introduced to arranged marriage is opportunity for interaction. In the traditional off-line mode, once a potential match was identi­fied, the next step would be for the prospective groom’s family (with or without the groom) to visit the prospective brides family at home. In more traditional families this may even be pre­ceded by several visits by other relatives and/or meetings of both families at another relative’s home. Setting up the visit was often a complex negotiation. The prospective partners are usually allowed to spend a brief amount of time alone to talk to each other. Other than that, it was rare for them to get an opportunity to get to know their future partner in marriage better. The bride and groom would also not have much say in any of the decisions about the wedding negotiations and arrangements.

With online services, many ofthese restrictions are being lifted. Prospective partners are often allowed to interview each other online without parental supervision. This represents an interesting shift in the role of the family in determining the compatibility of both partners. By allowing such communication, the responsibility of assessing compatibility and selection are gradually moving away from the family elders to the prospective can­didates. Since the joint family structure is slowly disappearing, the parents often seem content to apply the broad criteria of religion, caste, age, economic background, and so forth, on the choice of a partner and leave the rest (personality, likes, dislikes, etc.) to their children. With the help of online services, a period of online courtship has emerged. Potential partners are allowed to get to know each other by exchanging e-mails, talking to each other over the phone or chatting online. In almost all instances, this was long-distance without any face-to-face meetings. Although most families still do not allow the prospective partners to meet alone or go out on a date, they did not seem to have a problem with electronic interaction. This step of getting to know a potential partner better seems to have emerged with modern communica­tion technologies and precedes any formal meeting between the two families.

we chatted for 3 months23 she sent me an e-mail. and the next day everything was finalized.24

We dated ….(electronically).. for six months. 25

We chatted and spoke on the phone for hours and found that we are a perfect match for each other. 26

We chatted on (name of Web site) and thereafter we decided we r going to marry even before our families could meet.27

Earlier her family was not at all interested in me but slowly with our persistence they were forced to get us married.2S

The norms of matchmaking in India have traditionally been different. After a meeting of the families, the bride’s family would patiently wait for a response from the groom’s family. If the days stretched into weeks and there was no response from the family, it indicated that they are not interested in pursuing the match further. The implicit rejection when a marriage proposal is turned down could also carry a social stigma. There are no such unspoken rules on online inter­action. Chatting and dating can go on for a long time before there is any discussion of marriage. Online interaction allows users to disengage easily without any stigma associated with such rej ection. This can at times create problems and emotional issues for some users who are not used to having such extended relationships.

we chattedfor many months but he never wanted to take it forward.29

The traditional way of finding marriage part­ners through family and friends provides a certain amount of accountability; there is tacit trust which when violated can have social implications. With the search for partners going online, the process is taken out of a social context. While the search can cut across traditional social networks to find potential partners they are otherwise unlikely to reach, it makes judging the credibility of the information online even harder. Many families indicated that conducting a background check was very difficult with online matrimonial services. In some cases, the whole thing seemed to fall apart, after the families met as they did not approve of each other, or the family was different from what they had expected based on the descriptions provided online.

the girl was educated and pretty but she turned out to be crazy..30

the family did not seem as reputable as they claimed to be..

In many instances, it was still possible to get some background checks done through family and friends. While the Web sites themselves did not provide any easy methods to facilitate a back­ground check, some familie s went out oftheir way to do a background check by trying to find mutual contacts in the community who could help them with more information about the family. Also used in lieu of the background check was apply­ing the traditional filters of religion, language, community, caste, and so forth, with the implicit assumption that users similar in background also bore a level of trustworthiness. The inability to validate the information from traditional networks is another reason why families found it useful to allow the potential partners to communicate. Families acquiesced to online and long-distance interaction so that prospective partners could sort out values, norms and beliefs. As long as the potential partner fit the traditional filters, families let the partners do further selection themselves. In my profile, I had mentioned… who happens to be my dad’s uncle and his neighbor in (city name), and a common link between the two families. At that point of time he was in UK and I was in Ban­galore. He called me and we had a conversation… We exchanged all the details about us and both the families through.. uncle32

I received an e-mail stating that she was interested in speaking with me. Soon after…we began to chat on the Internet via Yahoo! Messenger. As soon as we started to communicate… our sessions lasted well into the wee hours of morning.33

Then we started chatting over msn. Which was on for 3 months34

It is evident that online matrimonial services have introduced new elements into the process of arranging marriage that are made possible by technology. The perception of relative anonymity and informal nature of the medium along with the absence of context provided by traditional social networks has allowed potential partners to play a greater role in the process. With the process shielded from the view of the immedi­ate social network of the family and therefore any possibility of social sanction or stigma, new forms of interactions and steps in the process are emerging. Families do not have to engage in elaborate orchestration ofthe interaction between families prior to settling on a choice for partner. The informal nature of interaction and absence of face-to-face communication make it easier to engage and disengage and as an interesting consequence obviate the need for signaling and the ambiguity associated with signaling (are they interested or not?).


Traditionally, arranged marriages have been bro­kered by family and friends, an elaborate process laced with social nuances that involves matching candidates on the basis of caste, community, religion and horoscopes. The family plays two important gate-keeping roles; the first is that of controlling the entry of new members into the family, especially the bride, and ensuring that they are compatible with the family’s values and traditions. In its second role, the family perpetuates the caste, community and religious divisions in the society. These societal divisions are viewed as surrogates for compatibility and for ensuring that traditions are carried on from one generation to the next. Our conversations with families showed that parents continued to perform this important gate-keeping role. In most cases, members of the family first screened the responses and made the first contact before allowing the prospective partners to meet each other.

We met in coffee day after our parents talked to each other. 5

Our parents then arranged a meeting for us.6

My father showed an interested in his profile and give him contact no. and e-mail ID. He accepted andforward my profile to his parents…. then he talked to my father and said he want to come to my parent’s home in Dehradun. Within a week he came and finalized the matter. Then my sister and Jijaji (Brother-in-law) went to his home at NOIDA and found suitable and said ok from our side. His parents and my parents talked to each other on the phone and after that the marriage was fixed. 7

After reading my profile and showing it to her father, her second cousin phoned my father (who was the contact listed with my profile) requesting more information about me.8

Firstly, both my parents and my partner’s parents contacted each other to make sure that all neces­sary requirements were suitable in order for the marriage proposal to materialize. 9

I approached to her and received a response from her father.

With online services, there is potential for dis­intermediation of the role played by parents and their status as gatekeepers starts to diminish. The process of screening and matching is no longer solely dependent on parents. Family could control information as either they went and met interme­diaries or received the responses to classifieds. Now the information is always there, only a few clicks away. It is not surprising that sometimes the initiative towards matchmaking is now being taken by the prospective partners themselves. Even if they found their own partner, given the dominant role of parents and the strong bond with family, they would still seek the approval of their families. Whether it was the family that acted as a gatekeeper or a final consenting authority, the family is ever present in the matchmaking process.

My thanks to… for bringing the two families together u

We interacted about ourfamily details and the kind of partner being sought. We both were satisfied with each others’ families, culture, background


With the consent and blessings of our families.

It is interesting that even if partners took initiative, they would mimic the very criteria that would be applied by their families, such as caste, community and religion. It did not matter whether the profiles were posted by family elders or the candidates themselves; religion, language, community, caste and sub-caste were always a consideration. Almost all profiles mentioned their own religion and caste as well as their preferred religion and caste of the partner.

marrying a Muslim is out of question. 14

our daughter-in-law is a Hindu… we still wish our son would have chosen a Muslim girl. 1

If I marry a Bengali (language).. it will be easier for her to interact with my grandparents and extended family. 16

Brahmins (caste group) are very particular about who they marry. 17

The use of online matrimonial services in fact seems to make it easier to find someone within the sub-caste of your choice. In the absence of these matrimonial services, the ability to find someone within one’s caste group depended on the reach of your extended family and the resources available. Families in the past would often compromise by marrying in the community outside the caste group because of limitations in the pool of applicants available. However, with geographical barriers removed by online services, it has become pos­sible to find someone belonging to the exact same caste or sub-caste as that being sought by the fam­ily. This same someone (invariably the bride) is also willing to move halfway across the world to live with her newly wedded partner. Thus online services not only perpetuate traditional notions of an acceptable partner, but also provided increased choice. Sometimes, this would also create deci­sion delay, as there was always hope that someone more perfectly matching the filtering criteria could come along in the future.

This is great! The girl of my dreams could be on the other side of the world. 18

I can’t believe that I canfind someone who matches my exact profile needs thousands ofmiles away.

Matching the horoscopes was also an important concern for many families. Some online services even provided this as an additional feature of their services.

the gotras should not be common. We would also ask for your details for purpose of horoscope matching20

Ourfamilies met and even the horoscopes matched well21

Sticking with our family tradition, we matched horoscopes and got elders consent.22

A cursory analysis would suggest that online matrimonial services simply replicate the off-line process of arranging marriages. It is evident that the criteria used for matching partners are largely carried over online. At the same time these services provide greater transparency and access that is loosening the grip of the family over information and eroding their role as gatekeepers. At times, the role is completely disintermediated by the presence of online services. Using online services increases the pool of potential partners and provides greater choice by breaking down geographical barriers and filling the gap created by weakening social networks. The increased choice does come at a cost—that of information overload.


The decision that a son or daughter should enter the marriage market is usually made by the parents and as a consequence the process is initiated by parents or a trusted family elder. For somebody to raise the matter of their own marriage would be considered bold and indicate that they are self-absorbed rather than thinking in terms of the interests of the family. Many young people in fact choose to avoid or postpone discussion ofmarriage using education or career as excuses because they believe they will be heading off confrontation between their expectations of a partner in mar­riage with those of the family. Some view it as a battle they will eventually ‘loose’ as the family will eventually ‘force’ them to compromise and make a choice. Others view it just the opposite, using delay as a tactic to wear down their parents as they start worrying about the window of mar­riageable age slipping away and are then ready to allow the son or daughter to have an upper hand in the selection process. All this suggests the absence of open communication within the family as individual members try to conform to their expected roles while engaging in signaling and power play.

Traditionally, the parents and family elders would start the process by raising the matter when they meet relatives and friends that they have started ‘looking’ for a match for their son or daughter. With the changing family structure and weakening social networks, this increasingly poses a challenge for families. For expatriates, who have been disconnected from these networks in India, the challenges are only greater. Choices may be few, not match the desired profile and the family also opens itself to pressure from the ex­tended family. Before online matrimonial services, families would rely on third-party matchmaking services and classified advertisements. Finding the right matchmaking service presented its own challenge as most would not disclose the demo­graphic nature of their pool of prospects. They might be skewed towards a particular community that the family was not interested in or avoid a community altogether thereby reducing the ef­ficacy of that brokerage service. Family elders indicate that until recently using matrimonial ads in newspapers was stigmatized and considered to be the last resort. Research in different national contexts indicates that till recently the users of matchmaking services were stigmatized (Darden & Koski, 1988). Classifieds were resorted to when families had problems finding matches the traditional way. Anonymous and charged by the word, parents would craft cryptic classifieds in attempt to compress all their myriad criteria in addition to posting basic biographic information into 50 words or less.

On the Web the restrictions posed by classifieds on the amount of information disappears. Whereas photographs would generally be exchanged only after the initial responses to classified were filtered, on the Web, most users post photographs along with the profile. This suggests that the stigma as­sociated with using impersonal and anonymous methods has eroded in most cases. Many families view this as the preferred method because they feel that they have a better chance of finding suitable matches in view of the more detailed information and larger pool of prospects. By browsing the Web site, users can make a quick judgment about the demographics of the pool and its suitability to their selection criteria.

As it is customary in Hindu families for parents to search for their children’s life partner, my parents were doing the same by speaking with relatives and also circulating our ‘bio-data’ via various electronic resources4. г

Even with online services, parents continue to perform the role of initiating, searching and filter­ing potential partners. Gender stereotypes persist in the new medium. This is consistent with research on dating ads in other countries which suggest that gender and role stereotypes and expectations likely persist and change very gradually over time (Peres & Meivar, 1986; Koestner & Wheeler, 1988). Women indicate that in the Indian societal context even if they were actively involved in the process or actually posted their own profile, they wanted to maintain the appearance that the process was being initiated and managed by their parents. In all of our conversations, we seldom found the roles reversed or even an attempt to convey the appearance that they had been reversed. Women, in most cases, did not post their own profiles because they were afraid of being considered as ‘fast and easy’. They would recount the experience of their friends who posted their own profiles had ended up in situations where the men were exchanging messages with them without any interest in mar­riage and were just looking to have a good time. Parents also perceived a greater responsibility in having their daughter married at the right time with the right match because they perceived that they were custodians of their daughters until they joined their ‘true’ family. This put greater pres­sure on parents to initiate and start the search for a suitable partner. Parents also believe they can pre-empt their daughters finding their own part­ners or avoid the issue especially in the case of career-oriented and ambitious women who were not interested in getting married in their twenties. One 28-year-old woman who is a consultant in a multinational firm explained:

I have to agree to put up with the ad because my parents keep pressurizing me…. at least this way it appears to them that I am interested in getting married and at the same time I can keep rejecting the matches they get for me.2

Her parents said:

the girls today want a very specific kind of hus­band.. he should be liberal and modern5 in his thinking.. she does not like anyone we find in our community.. by posting this ad perhaps we can find such a person in our specific caste and subcaste somewhere else.3

Another woman stated:

My profile was created by my elder brother and every day he checked for a partner for me.4

While parents conceded to their daughters’ desire for a like-minded partner, they also sought to preserve traditional notions of the primacy of caste and community.

Interestingly, a greater proportion of the pro­files ofgrooms were posted by prospective grooms themselves. Traditional gender stereotypes hold that men should be allowed greater independence (as long as they stayed or had their parents live with them). The perception that men are more technologically savvy created the circumstances for unmarried men to play a bigger role in online matchmaking. Parents felt they could deal with the low-tech nature of classifieds, but often felt ill equipped to deal with computers and the World Wide Web.

The shift from classified to online services has created increased opportunity for communication that was otherwise absent or predicated on non­verbal gestures and behavior. Once a classified is published, the action is followed with responses that come in batches and decline rapidly with time. The batched nature resulted in periods of waiting followed by some uncomfortable discussions among parents and their children. With online services, the profile has a greater shelf life yielding a steadier stream of responses. Moreover, there was the opportunity to engage in a more continu­ous as opposed to episodic search for potential partners. This created increased opportunity for communication within the family and more im­portantly for a tacit convergence of expectations.

Caste and sub-caste continue to be major considerations in search. In each of the online matrimonial services, a user could select bride or groom by caste, sub-caste, religion, language, state and age among other criteria. Almost everyone we talked to were very specific about religion and caste as filtering criteria. This was also reflected in the profiles that were posted on the Web sites. For example, a Hindu (religion), Brahmin (caste) female would want a Hindu, Brahmin male for a husband. In another posting, a 24-year-old woman from Mumbai sought a Hindu from the same caste speaking a specific language (Malayalam), but having moderate and liberal attitudes.

The profiles also reflected social taboos associ­ated with suitable partners. Many users specifically mentioned smoking and drinking. Partners who did not smoke or drink are preferred. Social taboos associated with smoking and drinking persisted in the new medium. In talking to women, drinking alcohol was not preferred for men and absolutely taboo for women. Other criteria for search that persist in online profiles are horoscope and skin color. Most men sought partners who had a fair or ‘wheatish’ complexion demonstrating the con­tinued belief in India that fair skin is associated with beauty.


There are a growing number of Web sites that are dedicated to providing matrimonial services in India. Major players from U. S. in Internet – related businesses view this as a potential market and have tied up with Indian firms, for example, Yahoo! along with a venture capital firm has taken up a stake in BharatMatrimony. com. Microsoft has ties with Shaadi. com, another popular Web site. The number of users of these services has grown from about 4 million in 2004 to 7.5 mil­lion in 2006 according to estimates provided by Internet & Mobile Association of India (Laksh – man, 2006). Although the online market in these services is only about 4% of the estimated $500 million spent on off-line matrimonial services, it is expected to continue to grow at the rate of 40%-50% every year. As the bulk of the off-line market consists ofprint classifieds, iftrends in the U. S. newspaper industry are anything to go by, online matrimonial services could soon overtake print media. A growing educated middle-class and sustained economic growth is only likely to further fuel the growth in these services.

Popular beliefs, especially in urban India, in­dicate that the popularity of these sites reflects the changing face of India. Traditionally, the family plays a very important role in arranged marriages in India. It begins with announcing the entry of the prospective bride or groom into the marriage market. The family influences the matching and selection process to preserve traditional notions of compatibility in terms of age, family culture, caste, community and horoscopes. Like most cultures, the bride is usually given away by the father, but unlike western culture not to the groom but to the groom’s family. Once married, the bride becomes a member of the groom’s family and is expected to have only weak ties to her own family.

The fact that most grooms stay in their parents’ homes, which is the norm, further reinforces the symbolic nature of this transition from one family to another for the bride. For this reason, the compatibility of the bride with the groom’s family and not just the groom is considered to be of greater importance than the relationship between the groom and bride’s family. To under­stand how families are using online matrimonial services for arranging marriages, we look at the matchmaking process in terms of search, matching and interaction. As we look at how technology is appropriated, we address the research questions: how do features presented by matrimonial Web sites used for arranging marriage, how are they changing the nature of the marriage process, and the norms and traditions associated with arranged marriage. We primarily focus on the role of family in the process against the backdrop of social and cultural changes permeating the Indian Diaspora.


Data for the study was collected over a span of fifteen months which included two visits, 63 days in 2006 and 49 days in 2007, studying Web sites and follow-up conversations over telephone. Dur­ing the first visit, the authors spent time talking to people and collecting secondary data about matrimonial Web sites, investigating the sites and the success stories posted on these sites. In the second visit, secondary data was used as a basis for identifying broad issues and research ques­tions for primary data collection. A majority of the time on both visits was spent in Mumbai, and supplemented by data collected from other major metropolitan cities over brief visits. As in studies ofthis nature, the emphasis is not as much on using a representative sample as it is to develop a deep understanding of the phenomenon. At the same time, we did wish to get a sampling of different families and the roles played by different members ofthe family in using online matrimonial services. The data collection process involved conversa­tions with prospective partners, parents, siblings and close relatives which ranged from informal interviews to just observing conversations as they took place in households.

Подпись: Table 1. SMI services offered by matrimonial Web sites in India Search (Information Gathering) Matching (Decision Making) Interaction (Relationship Formation) • Religious • Horoscope based matching • Contact through the service • Social background (caste, sub-caste, Gotra3, • Push (results delivered in the mailbox) • Phone and e-mail addresses Manglik) and pull matching (filtering based on user • Built-in chat services • astrological information (horoscopes and sin criteria) signs) • Can pursue multiple matches simultane- • lifestyle(smoking, alcohol consumption, vegetarian), • culture (languages spoken and values-liberal, traditional, modern, etc.) • complexion (fair or ‘wheatish’ rarely dark) • body type (slim or average never heavy • living conditions (income, living with parents, nationality, citizenship and work status in different countries such as U.S. ously

Since the focus of our investigation was online matrimonial services, a considerable amount of time was spent in understanding the technology itself. This involved two aspects; the first was to understand the nature and type of services provided by different Web sites2. We document these using the search, matching, and interaction framework (SMI) proposed by Ahuvia and Adelman (1992) in Table 1. The SMI framework is based on the primary roles performed by any market intermedi­aries namely, searching, matching and transacting. Ahuvia and Adelman (1992) developed the SMI framework to categorize the processes that are involved in the marriage market and proceeded to describe the marriage market intermediaries in terms of how they performed these processes. As marriages do not happen in a vacuum, the search-matching-interaction framework integrates the context in which the relationships dyads are embedded with the interpersonal processes involved in the formation of the relationship. The second aspect involved observing the ongo­ing appropriation of the online service by users as reflected in the profiles and success stories documented on these Web sites. These success stories are obviously intended as testimonials by other users for the service, but they provide an additional source of information and details on how the partners decided to adopt the service, how

they used the service, and the role of other family members. While these secondary sources of data are not central to this investigation, they helped us in understanding of the context and develop a more complete understanding ofthe phenomenon.

During our visits, we spent a considerable amount of time talking to different families that were actively engaged in the process of finding a suitable partner for a family member. They were in different stages ofthe process; while some had just begun to test the waters, others were ac­tively evaluating candidates. In one instance, we were able to follow the process right up to the actual wedding ceremony itself, which was at­tended by one of the authors. Our time in the field was spent initially in identifying families that would be suitable candidates for collecting data from the social network of our relatives in India and introductions made through this network. Conversations about arranged marriage took place in a variety of settings. A considerable amount of time was spent in participating in day-to-day activities of the participants, many of which in­volved shopping, eating out, or simply sharing a ride with them as they commuted either for work or social engagements. When a search is active, it was not too difficult to get a family talking as it would invariably be at the top of their minds. While families were observed as such, discussions
took place over afternoon tea or a meal; there were many opportunities where there were one – to-one conversations. Apart from group settings, the cultural context and topic are such that women are more apt to discuss and share their feelings, emotions and thoughts on the subject in depth in a one on one conversation.

Ethnographic research suffers from unique issues of validity and reliability (LeCompte & Goetz, 1982); replication of these studies pose problems of variation in context. Collectively, we spoke to about 39 individuals during our stay and during subsequent follow-up telephone calls. Of these, 23 were women and 16 were men. Of the men, six were fathers of the women, four were brothers of the women, twq were uncles of the men and four were the men in the marriage mar­ket. Of the women, 12 were the women who were candidates for marriage, six were mothers of the women, four were sisters of the women, and one was the mother of a man in the marriage market. About three-fourths ofthe respondents were from the northern part of India and the remaining were from the southern part of India. All of our study participants were from metropolitan cities and because of the nature of our sampling process, we did not have access to people in small towns and rural India. The average household income of the participants likely ranged from 25,000 rupees per month (about 600 dollars) to about more than 100,000 rupees a month (2,400 dollars). We did not ask direct questions about income because such questions were not appropriate in the social milieu in which we were interacting with the participants. Thus the participants constituted members of the Indian middle and upper middle class. It is also our assumption that many lower – middle class families do not use the Internet for matrimonial matchmaking. Almost all of our participants belonged to the upper three castes in the Indian caste system, and our social network limited our access to lower castes. The first few of the participants were members of the authors’ extended family, friends and larger circle of ac­quaintances who then directed us to others who were participating in matrimonial Web site-based matchmaking. This limitation in our sampling limits the generalizability of our study. Our study is limited in scope to urban middle class families participating in the Web-based matchmaking and is influenced by the authors’ perceptions of tradi­tional arranged marriages in India, as well as what our study participants, especially the fathers and mothers, recounted about how arranged marriages used to take place in their time.

The nature of our conversations focused on information included in the profiles, how the process of arranged marriage was conducted us­ing the Web sites, the role of the family versus the partners themselves and interactions between families and partners before and during the deci­sion making process. The questions were woven into the conversation, sometimes requiring repeat interactions and were transcribed at the end of the day. Due to the nature of immersion in the field, it is not possible to precisely draw a boundary on how many hours of actual conversation form the pool of field experience. In order to keep track of our conversations, we kept a daily log individu­ally that included both field notes and our own reflections. Once every week during our visits, both authors would spend a couple of hours going over their own and each other’s logs to fill gaps and discuss progress.

Data coding and categorization was done manually by the each of the authors at the end of the study. The next step was discussion and synthesis of the variations in coding and catego­rization schemes used by the authors. At this step, where needed, further data was collected through follow-up phone conversations. Or coding and categorization schemes centered around our key research questions, the role ofthe family in initia­tion and the decision making process, the degree and length of courtships, the sequence of courtship in the matchmaking process, and the preferences of the participants and family members about the chosen characteristics of the potential partner.


The objective of this research is to examine the adoption and use oftechnology in situ in a complex social process involving numerous stakeholders in order to develop a grounded understanding of the phenomena. Our aim here is to observe what people actually do rather than what they say they do or what they say they should be doing. We rely on ethnography to observe, document and inter­pret the appropriation of technology in arranged marriages in India.

Ethnography as a research method was devel­oped by social and cultural anthropologists where the researcher spends a considerable amount of time in the field observing the phenomenon within its social and cultural context (Myers, 1999). In recent years, an increasing emphasis has been placed by researchers on the social and organizational contexts of information systems and ethnographic research has emerged as an important tool for studying these contexts (Myers, 1999; Schultze & Leidner, 2002). Early IS research that used the ethnographic approach focused on human-computer communications (Suchman, 1987) and was the basis for the widely known In the Age of the Smart Machine by Zuboff (1988). More recently, ethnography has been used to study management of information systems (Davies & Nielsen, 1992), development of information systems (Orlikowski, 1991; Myers & Young, 1997), their implementation (Orlikowski, 1992a), knowledge work (Schultze & Leidner, 2002), and their impact (Randall et al., 1999).

With its emphasis on participant observation over extended periods of time, ethnography is considered to be one ofthe most in-depth research methods possible (Myers, 1999). The method places primacy over first-hand observations made by researchers who are immersed in the social and work lives of their subjects (Atkinson & Hammersley, 1994; Myers, 1999). By focusing on socially-situated observations, we develop rich descriptions of the how participants in ar­ranged marriage engage with each other, adopt and appropriate technology and analyze the role of technology in shaping the social context to generate theoretical insights. As ethnographers we adopt a sense-making and learning role as compared to the more conventional scientific approach of formulating and testing hypotheses. The approach deploys a flexible and somewhat unstructured research design where the actual progression ofthe phenomenon (e. g., an arranged marriage) and study participants drive the data collection process.

As ethnographers, researchers act as their own research instrument; as a result they are driven by their unique identity, knowledge, experience and subjectivity. The researcher has to rely on his/her personal experience in engaging with the research phenomenon to develop an understanding and generate theoretical insights. The ethnographic narrative arising from the study then become experiences of shared subjectivity. In writing ethnography, researchers often engage in writing and rewriting their own identities (Chawla, 2006). Given that ethnography is often associated with observing cultural context as an outsider (Atkinson & Hammersley, 1994), we as natives1 ofthe culture are in some ways ‘insiders’ to social setting in which we perform our investigation. However, it offers the advantage ofbeing readily accepted, hav­ing a shared history, understanding of the context and related experiences. Moreover, participants are less likely to view us as outside observers because we look native, speak the language, and are to some degree (albeit loosely) embedded in the social fabric of their daily lives. Chawla (2006) argues that as an ethnographer, native or otherwise, researchers enter the field entrenched with degrees of outsiderness that instills a certain amount of objectivity and distance into their ob­servation and analysis. Moreover, just like other research that adopts a more scientific approach, ethnographic research is expected to meet stan­dards of objectivity (Schultze & Leidner, 2002). As scientists, ethnographic researchers have to balance subjectivity and objectivity in a manner that convinces the academic community of the generalizability and reliability oftheir inferences.