From Aristotle to contemporary soap operas, friendship has always been a subject of fascination. But scholarly investigation of the broad social relevance of friendship has been neglected. Rethinking Friendship describes the varied nature of personal relationships today, and also locates friendship in contemporary debates about individualization and the supposed "collapse of community." Exploring friendships with partners and family as well as "friends," the book reveals ways in which friends and friendlike ties are an important and unacknowledged source of social glue.
Using a rigorous analysis of in-depth interviews, the authors develop a set of innovative concepts--friendship repertoires (the range of friendships people have); friendship modes (the way people make and maintain friendships over time); and patterns of suffusion (the extent to which boundaries between friends and family become blurred). These concepts form the basis of a typology of personal communities that vary in the roles played by friends, family, partners, and neighbors.
Combining scholarly depth and rich description, this absorbing and accessible book will appeal to all those interested in informal social relationships, including students of methodology and policymakers. With its challenge to pessimistic commentators, Rethinking Friendship urges us to resist sweeping generalizations and to acknowledge the sheer diversity of social life today.
"How many friends do you have? How important are friends in your life? How important is friendship to the health of a nation? These are the kind of questions that Liz Spencer (with colleague Ray Pahl) has been investigating. It's a subject that their discipline, sociology, has largely neglected, leaving it to the novelists and agony aunts. Their findings, as recorded in . . . Rethinking Friendship, require us to do just that. Rethink."--John Sutherland, The Guardian
"Perceptive, thought-provoking and wholly accessible, this book contributes to broader debates about friendship and will appeal to a wide audience from general readers to academic scholars and students interested in the literary field of informal social networks. Unequivocally, this book delightfully delivers essentially what it promises to. It is an empirically grounded and methodologically sound exploration, which is rich in detail and convincingly uncovers the persistence of hidden solidarities where family members are considered to be friends and friends take on family-like status. Here, the everyday is rethought in a new light which shines on old solidarities and new forms of social cohesion, successfully debunking the myth of an alleged lack of commitment and trust in declining personal relationships."--Sharon Elly, Sociology
"This book addresses what is currently a highly significant issue in public and academic life--the nature of social capital and social participation. The authors handle the theoretical issues in an informative and sophisticated fashion, and unlike many other discussions of social capital, the book is based on strong empirical material. A significant contribution to the field."--Graham Allan, University of Keele and University of British Columbia
Table of Contents:
CHAPTER ONE: The Fragmentation of Social Life? 9
CHAPTER TWO: Capturing Personal Communities 32
CHAPTER THREE: The Nature of Friendship 57
CHAPTER FOUR: Patterns of Friend-Making 87
CHAPTER FIVE: Friends and Family: The Case for Suffusion 108
CHAPTER SIX: Personal Communities Today 128
CHAPTER SEVEN: Micro-SocialWorlds in theMaking 156
CHAPTER EIGHT: Hidden Solidarities Revealed 190
APPENDIX: HowWe Carried Out Our Study 213