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The sociology of friendship: historical, literary & empirical perspectives

Skidmore, David

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David Skidmore


Friendship has been extensively examined over recent years, particularly in the field of social psychology. I argue that, rather than friendship, other relationships implying friendship, which I term 'association', have been the focus of attention in these previous studies. This outcome is the result of 'outsider' approaches as a method of investigation which cannot approach an essentially 'internal' relationship like 'friendship'.
By examination of historical, literary and empirical texts, a model of 'real' friendship was identified. Subsequently, both 'insider' (participative) and outsider (non-participative) techniques were used to examine the feasibility of this model in everyday life. My own personal location is identified within this study, so that an understanding of the direction that the study takes can be identified.
Essentially, two types of relationships, that are labelled 'friendship' by 'actors', were identified:
1) Friendship: Which is argued to be a projection of 'self' that manifests as identification of certain idealistic/romantic attributes or qualities in others, and consequently only achieves 'reality' in a person's interpretation of events. In this respect it contains 'internality'.
2) Association: Which is a relationship frequently mistaken for friendship by observers, but is marked by its 'externality', in that such relationships are normally bonded by a shared activity where concern for the person is minimal.
Rather than taking a direct, positivistic approach to the subject, this approach 'unfolds' as it progresses, to identify, not only my own position, but also how people define friendship.
Combination of 'insider' and 'outsider' approaches provide data that illustrate the attributes and constructions of both 'friendship' and 'association'. Friendship is argued to be a device for anchoring the person's ideals in social reality, whereas association is argued to be a common relationship, sought to allow the outlet of an 'enjoyable' activity; in this respect the activity takes precedence over the person.
Finally, it is suggested within the text that a combination of 'insider' and 'outsider' methods is crucial when approaching the study of any type of relationship.


Skidmore, D. (1986). The sociology of friendship: historical, literary & empirical perspectives


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