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Arian Meinhardt

on 4 July 2013

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Transcript of Couchsurfing

Data I - Quest for Authenticity
„I saw places and met people I would have never encountered without couchsurfing“
“The 'real Freiburger', you don't meet them often. I think it important to show them to my surfers.“
“It's not about [showing] something well-known but something that I [the host] like”
“What you show depends on the surfer, it develops in the conversation
Data III - Significance for Social Life
“Sometimes these encounters will lead to actual friendships. I have a good friend from Croatia whom I met through CS”
Freiburg Image
Social Distinction
design by Dóri Sirály for Prezi
Research Questions
How does the host, in the form of a ‘cultural broker’, help create the social construction of Freiburg in terms of identity and space?
What is the motivation behind being a host?
How does that create a transnational couchsurfing community?
Participant observation (undercover and overt)
Mapping of the Couchsurfing community
Face-to-Face Interviews
Archives and secondary data
“With Couchsurfing, you can stay with locals in every country on earth. Travel like a local, stay in someone’s home and experience the world in a way money can’t buy.”
- Couchsurfing website

The Face-to-Face Interview
The Eagle
Categories and Questions
General; Background
Freiburg specific; Couchsurfing community within Freiburg
Tourism vs. Couchsurfing
Interview situation:
Social desirability
leading questions
almost no social distance between interviewer and interviewee
Access to surfers
Access to literature
change of CS-website

Data II - Social Distinction
Against tourists:
“We are the ,good‘ people, we are curious, [...] not only passive consumerism, critical about commercialism, critical about globalization, educated, open-minded”

Within Couchsurfing community:
“There are roughly 3 groups within the cs community: Those that believe in the idea, those that do it for financial reasons and those that do it for sex.”

Data IV - Reciprocity
“I want social interaction. My surfer should take some time for me [...] he should be interested in me.”

„You don’t have to give something back directly to the people that gave you something, you can just do good to others and that’s also the spirit of CS.”

“That we do something together. That we share something. [...] That there is an exchange.”

“It's great. In Lyon I didn't know anybody in the beginning. And now my top-ten-friends are all from these Couchsurfing groups.“
“I met one of my best friends surfing his place in Sicily”
“My life is mostly couchsurfing, regarding the social contacts”
“Couchsurfing is in my life daily”
New form of tourism?
Online, phone and written questionnaires
not used:

Transnational Networks
Gift Economy
Liquid Modernity I
Liquid Modernity II
Liquid Modernity III
Marcel Mauss – ‘The Gift’

Uses previous ethnography of ‘archaic’ societies.

Opposes utilitarian view of disinterested bartering.

Finds other forms of exchange.
Creates a social bond.

To give, to receive and to reciprocate.

Importantly has the effect of creating social cohesion within the group, a group solidarity.

Zygmunt Bauman
Identity – previously given by traditions and the collective.
Fixed geographically
- Church
- Work
- Family

Collective identity -> Individual identity
Not as fixed by traditions and institutions
As identity is not as given it has to be created by the individual – hence a constant mode of self-reflection.
Consumerism – flow of images of what life ‘should be’.
Constant lack of satisfaction.
Collective identity -> The individual experience

Stability -> Instability

Predictability -> Unpredictability

Static -> Movement

Gift-giving and Couchsurfing I
The Exchange I
Local knowledge

Artifacts (‘Where can I get a bike?’

Institutions (Which bar should you go to?)

Places (Which are the best hiking trails?)

Introduction to a local social circle and knowledge of local habits.

Gift-giving and Couchsurfing II
“Well… AirBnB is clearly for people to make money and I don’t think anyone couchsurfing thinks it’s about money. If you want to rent a room there’s other channels or websites . It’s more about the idea of helping people and meeting other people.”
“You can get local advice from people from the town which they otherwise never would have known about, from an organised tour. For example I had a couchsurfer from Kenya and he wanted to go mountain biking in the black forest. Of course you could go on a tour but I’ve been mountain biking here since I came here, since 2005, so I know every single trail. So I can show people trails that they don’t know about. ”
The Exchange II
“They arrived late at night. I talked some with they guy but the girl went to sleep almost directly and yeah, that’s not how it should work.“

Social interaction – intimacy as a gift.

creating a community
Gift-giving -> social bonds
locally bounded
transnational networks
of Experience
Full transcript