views updated May 17 2018


Friendship is a relationship with broad, ambiguous, and even shifting boundaries. The terms friend and friendship mean different things to different people and different things to the same people at different times. To think and communicate effectively about the topic, people find it necessary to use distinctions such as true friends, best friends, good friends, casual friends, work friends, social friends, and friendly acquaintances. In spite of friendship's vague and seemingly indefinable quality, friendships contribute in important ways to psychological development and health and well-being from early childhood through the older adult years.

Social and behavioral scientists devoted little attention to friendship prior to the late 1960s. Since that time, however, friendship has become one of the more favored topics among relationship scholars. The study of friendship is interdisciplinary in nature, concerning researchers from various sub-fields within psychology as well as sociology, communications, anthropology, social work, family studies, and psychiatry. It is also international in scope with researchers from many parts of the world making significant contributions to the empirical and theoretical literature. In terms of the sheer number of scholars focusing their work on friendship, countries from North America, Europe, Asia, and the Middle East (primarily Israel) are especially well represented. Cross-cultural research is common, especially with respect to comparative studies of children's friendships (Schneider et al. 1997). In spite of this disciplinary, geographic, and cultural variety, there is a remarkable degree of agreement about the fundamental meaning of friendship and in documenting its importance.

Definition and Characteristics

Unlike other important relationships, friendship is not defined by kinship, legal ties, or formal social obligations. Normally, there are no ceremonies surrounding the formation of a friendship. In fact, friendships rarely begin with two people declaring that, "from this day forward, we will be friends." Rather, friendships develop gradually and often unwittingly as the partners begin doing "friendship things" together. Once formed, friendships are largely free of clear social norms or expectations that dictate when the partners should get together and how they should interact when they do. When friendships end, they generally do not do so as a result of an announced decision by one or both parties. Occasionally, of course, friendships end abruptly due to obvious breaches of good will such as dishonesty or betrayal. Most often, however, friendships merely fade away as the partners cease doing the things that gave the relationship its meaning.

This lack of social definition gives friendship its vague and intangible character. Nevertheless, it is a relationship that seems to exist almost, but not quite, universally across cultures. This combination of factors led anthropologist Robert Paine (1969) to describe friendship as an institutionalized non-institution (Suttles 1970). What, then, verifies a friendship? A friendship exists in the fact that the partners commit time to interaction with one another apart from outside pressures or constraints. In friendship, the partners' lives are interdependent on a voluntary basis. In more structured relationships such as marriage, the partners' lives are also interdependent, but much of the interdependence is based on social norms and expectations obliging them to relate to one another in prescribed ways. Thus, many social and behavioral scientists, in fields ranging from sociology to psychology to anthropology, emphasize voluntariness as an essential feature of friendship.

A second key aspect of friendship is what Gerald Suttles (1970) called the person-qua-person factor. That is, friends respond to one another as unique, genuine, and irreplaceable individuals. They do not see one another as mere role occupants or representatives of particular groups or statuses. Friends express this focus on individuality as a personalized interest and concern. Combining these two characteristics provides the following definition: Friendship is a relationship in which the partners respond to one another with an individualized interest and concern and commit time to one another in the absence of constraints toward interaction that are external to the relationship itself. The more these two factors are in evidence, the stronger the friendship.

According to this definition, friendship is a matter of degree rather than an all-or-none proposition. It would undoubtedly be more accurate, even if awkward, to speak of degrees of friendness rather than friendship versus non-friendship. Anthropological studies suggest that forms of relating following this pattern are found in most, but not all, cultures (Leyton 1974; Bell and Coleman 1999).

Benefits of Friendship

As part of their unconstrained and personalized interaction, friends benefit one another in innumerable ways. They listen, encourage, give advice, help with chores, loan money, have fun, exchange trivia, share confidences, and simply "are there" for one another. The specifics vary from time to time and from one friendship to another.

Several scholars have suggested ways of grouping these benefits into a manageable number of categories. Many researchers consider just two classes of rewards adequate for most purposes. These two classes are most often labeled as instrumental and expressive. Instrumental rewards involve receiving tangible resources such as goods or money, and obtaining assistance in completing tasks or reaching goals. Expressive rewards involve receiving emotional support, encouragement, and personal advice from an understanding confidant. Israeli psychologists Mario Mickulincer and Michal Selinger (2001) developed a somewhat different two-way classification, proposing that individuals pursue friendships to fulfill either affiliative (companionship) or attachment (socioemotional) needs.

Although such two-fold classifications are adequate for many purposes, people sometimes find it useful to consider more specific rewards that are (or are not) present in a friendship, or that are present in one friendship but not another. Some researchers have developed more detailed sets of rewards for exploring such nuances. Robert B. Hayes (1984), for example, formulated a list of four rewarding friendship behaviors: companionship (sharing activities or one another's company), consideration (helpfulness, utility, support), communication (discussing information about one's self, exchanging ideas and confidences), and affection (expressing sentiments felt toward one's partner).

In a similar vein, Paul H. Wright (1978, 1985) identified five interpersonal rewards or friendship values: these are utility (providing material resources or helping with tasks), stimulation (suggesting new ideas or activities), ego support (providing encouragement by downplaying setbacks and emphasizing successes), self-affirmation (behaving in ways that reinforce a friend's valued self-characteristics) and security (providing a feeling of safety and unquestioned trust).

Voluntariness and Contextual Factors in Friendship

Although most authorities agree that voluntariness is the sine qua non of friendship (Carrier 1999; Krappmann 1996), it is important to consider what they do and do not mean by this term. Voluntariness indicates only that friendships are nonobligatory, in other words, that they are formed by personal preference and not on the basis of external requirements or expectations. Furthermore, once formed, they are non-obligatory in the sense that friends are much freer to choose what to do or not do with another than partners in more structured relationships. Voluntariness does not mean that a person has either the freedom or possibility of becoming friends with virtually anyone they might choose. Indeed, as sociologists Rebecca G. Adams and Graham Allan (1998) emphasize, both friendship choice and the specific forms of interaction that take place in friendships are affected by contextual factors, in other words, personal, circumstantial, societal, and cultural influences that can be facilitative, limiting, or some of each.

Adams and Graham's point concerning context is illustrated by comparative data on children's friendships collected in East and West Berlin prior to the breakup of the Soviet Union (Little et al. 1999). Eight- to fourteen-year-old children in the two cities were similar in their perceptions of their friendships' quality and reciprocity. Even so, consistent with the restrictive social climate of the time, children in East Berlin reported more conflict, enjoyed fewer mutual visits and sleep-overs, and had less fun in their play. Canadian psychologists Anna Beth Doyle and Dorothy Markiewiscz (1996) documented contextual factors in a different way, reviewing studies showing that children's friendships with other children are enhanced in both number and quality if their parents have high quality relationships between themselves and with friends outside the family.

On a broader social level, given the voluntary and preferential nature of friendship, there are cultures in which such relationships cannot thrive. There are a few cultures, for example, where personal relationships are closely formulated in terms of status and kinship (DuBois 1974), or where speaking taboos are confining and rigidly enforced. In such cultures, friendships are rare or nonexistent. However, as Lothar Krappmann (1996) suggests, individuals in such restrictive cultures often find ways of maintaining ties akin to friendship. Sarah Uhl (1991), for example, found that some women in the Andalusian region of Spain bypassed explicit prohibitions against forming friendships. They established voluntary and personalized non-kin bonds under the guise of interaction required by their domestic chores.

In sum, friendship is a non-obligatory and personalized relationship that is embedded in a context composed of an individual's personal circumstances and social and cultural milieu. Such contextual factors influence the number and specific kinds of friendships an individual has the opportunity and personal resources to form and maintain. Due attention to contextual factors is, therefore, basic to a full understanding of the friendship relationship.

Friendships Throughout Childhood

From an adult perspective, friendship involves voluntary interaction between two persons who relate to one another on a personal and individualized basis. As such, friendship is beyond the capacity of most children until about the age of ten or twelve. Prior to that time, however, children experience friendship in less complete but increasingly sophisticated ways, beginning with a rudimentary conception at about three years of age (Howes 1996; Rose and Asher 2000).

In 1992, William K. Rawlins proposed a means of categorizing children's friendships from toddlerhood through preadolescence with a classification system that has stood the test of time. Following Robert L. Selman (1981), Rawlins describes friends in the first phase (ages three to six years) as momentary physicalistic playmates. Children respond to age-mates they meet at, for example, day care or the playground, on the basis of physical characteristics or possessions. The children are "friends" as long as they are participating jointly in some enjoyable activity. They are often inclusive of one another and exclusive of "outsiders" when other children attempt to join them. This exclusiveness is transitory, however, as the children often lose interest in one activity and pick up another with different partners or new "friends." Brief quarrels, usually over toys or space, are common. Although short in duration, these quarrels involve expressing emotions, sometimes having one's own way, and sometimes being compelled to "give in." They often lead to shifts in playmates. During this period, children start developing some of the social skills necessary for forming more enduring friendships. They begin learning, for instance, to take turns and manage their emotions. Moreover, as they become familiar and comfortable with children they meet repeatedly, they start showing some degree of consistency in their preferred playmates.

Friendships of children from about six to nine years of age follow a pattern that Rawlins (1992) describes as opportunity and activity. The friends usually live close to one another and are of the same sex and similar in age, social status, and social maturity. They spend most of their time together in physical activities (skating, biking, sports), make-believe games related to domestic or work situations, fantasized athletic accomplishments, and "adventures" modeled after favorite fictional heroes.

Children at this age still tend to describe their friends according to physical characteristics and possessions, but sometimes think of them in more relational terms, such as showing liking and supportiveness. Whereas they realize that different people may see and respond to the same situation in different ways, they feel that friends should share points of view. Thus, one child is likely to see another as a friend only during times when their ideas coincide and when they like doing the same things. When they are not, they are not friends. During the "friendship times," they exchange benefits on a tit-for-tat basis. Thus, at this stage, friendships are on-and-off relationships that are largely self-oriented and opportunistic.

Between the ages of roughly nine and twelve years, children increasingly respond to others in terms of internal characteristics (attitudes, beliefs, values). They learn to infer these characteristics by observing the ongoing acts of others, and they are aware that others can, in turn, infer internal characteristics in the same way. With this cognitive ability, a child can "step outside" of the self and take the perspective of the other, including the perceptions the other has of her or him. This enables them to form friendships that Rawlins (1992) labels reciprocal and equal.

At this stage, children usually choose friends whose beliefs agree with their own. Such agreement confirms the correctness of their emerging views, thereby providing what psychiatrist Harry Stack Sullivan (1953) called consensual validation. To the degree that their perspectives differ, however, friends at this age are able to accommodate some of the differences and arrive at a shared outlook. Although the children still tend to be self-oriented and opportunistic, they realize that their friends are equal to them in the sense of being entitled to benefits from the relationship. Therefore, the exchange of rewards tends to be normative and reciprocal. That is, the child provides benefits when the friend has a need for them because that is what friends are supposed to do. That friend, of course, is expected to return the benefits for the same reason. Thus, friends are people who share ideas, interests and feelings, and who provide rewards on a broadly reciprocal basis. In the reciprocity and equality phase, then, children are on the fringes of a conception of friendship as a relatively stable relationship that transcends occasional disagreements and periods of separation.

At preadolescence (about ten to fourteen years of age), children acquire the ability and inclination to respond to other children in terms of personality traits and styles (nice, easy-going, mean, selfish) and special interests and attitudes. They sometimes see these characteristics as combining to make the other person uniquely admirable and attractive. This sets the stage for what Rawlins (1992) calls the period of mutuality and understanding in children's friendships.

According to Sullivan (1953), preadolescent children experience a need for interpersonal closeness in an especially poignant way, and express this need as a strong desire to establish a same-sex "chumship." Research generally confirms the nature of these chumships and the importance Sullivan attaches to them.

As two children come to recognize uniquely attractive features in one another, they are likely to become "real" friends. Such friends consider one another intrinsically worthwhile. They are loyal to one another and provide rewards, not with the expectation of reciprocation, but simply because the partner is deserving. Preadolescent friends share common day-to-day experiences to which they often react with an intensity and immediacy that either puzzles or amuses important adults such as parents and teachers. Therefore, chums are especially capable of providing empathy and understanding. At this stage, friendships not only build each child's self-esteem, they also provide a context for expressing and trying out personal thoughts and feelings in a free and unguarded manner. Such freedom is possible because friendships, while close and caring, lack the socially mandated responsibilities and inequities present in many relationships, such as that between parents and children.

Thus, children approaching adolescence begin to experience friendship in its full-blown form, that is, as an enduring relationship involving voluntary interdependence and a mutual personalized interest and concern. Through these friendships, they experience and practice empathy, altruism, unselfishness, and loyalty. There is, however, a darker side to preadolescent friendships. Because they are intense and exclusive, they often encourage cliquishness and animosity between sets of friends. At times, too, the friends themselves disagree, become jealous, become competitive, and have an occasional falling out. At this point, however, the partners have a conception of friendship as a relationship that usually persists in spite of episodic difficulties.

Throughout all the phases from toddlerhood through preadolescence, children are generally inclined to select friends of their own sex. Furthermore, girls' and boys' friendships differ, on the average, in several ways. Girls' friendships, for example, are more exclusively pair-oriented whereas boys' are more group- or gang-oriented. Girls tend to talk, "gossip," and exchange secrets more than boys, who concentrate on games, "projects," and shared activities. These contrasts fore-shadow overall gender differences that appear in adolescence and persist through adulthood.

Friendships Throughout Adolescence

Adolescence extends from the onset of puberty until the individual begins young adult life by entering the work force or undertaking postsecondary education. Because of the developmental tasks characteristic of this period, the meaning and values of friendship acquired during preadolescence continue and expand (Berndt 1996). Throughout this time, the typical adolescent encounters differing ideologies and values, a variety of activities to pursue or forego, and potential lifestyles to consider. The adolescent's two-fold "task" is to discover which options can and should be committed to, and to integrate them into a personal identity.

Although parents normally remain an important source of guidance and support, part of the adolescent's struggle is to work toward independence from them. Thus adolescents continue to rely on their parents for material support and instrumental rewards, normally respecting their ideals as sources of continuity and stability. They are less likely, however, to see their parents as helpful in developing their views on present and future issues. For their part, parents generally feel an obligation to socialize their adolescents "properly" and, hence, tend to be judgmental as their adolescent children explore different directions. Therefore, close friendships, because they involve nonjudgmental yet caring equals, help the adolescent develop a sense of identity by offering "a climate of growth and self-knowledge that the family is not equipped for" (Douvan and Adelson 1966, p. 174).

As they carry out their friendships, girls are more likely than boys to emphasize expressive rather than instrumental rewards. As in preadolescence, both girls and boys usually form friendships with members of their own sex. Even so, cross-gender friendships are not uncommon, and most adolescents maintain careful distinctions between opposite-sex partners who are friends and those who are romantic or dating partners. Where cross-gender friendships exist, both girls and boys find them valuable sources of information and insight about the opposite sex in a relationally neutral ("safe") context. Boys, especially, find cross-gender friendships advantageous because they provide expressive rewards that are not as readily available in their friendships with other boys. The qualities of cross-gender friendships evident in adolescence tend to persist throughout adulthood (Monsour 2002).

Friendships Throughout Adulthood

Close friendships are possible and, in fact, common at all stages of adulthood. Also, regardless of whether they involve women, men, or cross-gender pairs, close friendships provide benefits that are similar in kind and degree. There are, however, circumstances at young, middle, and later adulthood that affect typical friendship patterns (Adams and Blieszner 1996; Matthews 1996).

Young adulthood starts with the individual's loosening of emotional ties with parents and family while beginning to explore stable work opportunities or pursue further education. This development includes changes in commitments and activities, and often changes in residence. Such changes usually disrupt the individual's network of non-kin associates, creating the opportunity, if not the necessity, of forming new friendships. Indeed, young adults who succeed in forging new friendships report being happier, less lonely, and better adjusted than those who do not. Individuals at this stage are relatively free of obligations and social roles (e.g., professional advancement, marriage, and parenthood) that might conflict with forming friendships. Consequently, single young adults report more friendships, including cross-gender friendships, than adults at any other stage.

Gender differences in friendships are as much in evidence during young adulthood as at any other time. That is, women are, on average, more expressive and personally oriented in their friendships than men. Moreover, the friendships of women are generally stronger than those of men with respect to both voluntary interdependence and the person-qua-person factor. As in adolescence, males find that their cross-gender friendships provide expressive rewards to a greater degree than do their same-gender friendships.

With such life events as marriage, parenthood, and accelerated career development, young adulthood merges into middle adulthood. Following marriage, both women and men report having fewer cross-gender friends. One obvious reason for this is suspicion and jealousy, but there are other factors. Michael Monsour noted, for example, that "marriage curtails opportunities for cross-sex friendship formation because spouses spend most of their free time together rather than separately in social situations that might lead to cross-sex friendship formation" (2002, p. 156). Furthermore, when people marry, they generally become more dependent on spouses and less so on friends for meeting social needs. Men especially tend to rely on female friends as confidants, but when they marry they find that their wives meet their expressive needs by becoming live-in confidants, that is, "friends."

Also during middle adulthood, men show a drop in the number and intensity of same- as well as cross-gender friendships. This is partly because their preoccupation with career development leaves them little time to cultivate anything but superficial friendships. In addition, men most often meet other men in work settings. Because of this, many of their potential friends are people with whom they compete for raises or advancement, or with whom they are involved either as supervisors or subordinates. Neither of these conditions is conducive to the openness and personalized concern necessary for the development of a close friendship. When friendships do develop between male work associates, they are likely to center around shared activities and camaraderie rather than personal self-disclosure and expressiveness.

The "friendship situation" for women in middle adulthood is complex. Prior to the arrival of children, marriage has little impact on the number, strength, or expressive character of friendships. With the arrival of children, however, women report a decrease in the number of friendships. This is probably due to women's traditionally greater responsibility for the home and family. The fact that many women also work outside the home further limits the time and energy they have to pursue friendships. Even so, the friendships they are able to maintain retain their expressive and highly personalized character. Later in middle adulthood, presumably as their children become more independent, women report increasing numbers of friends. Women, like men, often form friendships in work settings. However, they are likely to see such relationships as acquaintanceships rather than friendships. They commonly make distinctions among work friends, activity friends, and "real" friends (Gouldner and Strong 1987).

But what about the friendships of adults who never marry? One often hears anecdotally that such never-marrieds cultivate more friendships and treat their friends as special "family." Research, however, does not bear out such a "friends as family" trend. Rather, findings suggest that most unmarried adults increase their contact with relatives rather than forming more or different kinds of friendships.

Older adulthood, usually considered to begin when a person reaches about sixty-five years of age, is marked by two kinds of changes that affect friendships. On the one hand, increasing health concerns, reduced mobility, and declining vigor reduce opportunities for contact with friends and the energy the individual has to devote to them. On the other hand, retirement and reduced social and family obligations increase the free and uncommitted time the individual has to nurture existing friendships and to develop new ones. Not surprisingly, these factors have a different impact on the friendships of older women than those of older men (Field 1999).

For women, the increasing flexibility of middle adulthood continues into older adulthood. Older women are thus able to sustain established friendships and to form new ones as friends die or relocate. Throughout life, women's friendships tend to be more expressive than those of men. In older adulthood, then, women have both the social skills and inclination to continue this pattern. Moreover, women are more likely than men to face the prospect of widowhood and to fill the relationship void by emphasizing their friendships. Whereas widows rely on adult children, especially daughters, for material and practical support, they rely on same aged friends to meet their expressive needs and to maintain their morale.

Because men's friendships are centered mostly around work affiliations and shared activities, when men retire and curtail their activities they often lose their friendships as well. Men are less likely than women to form new friendships to replace the ones they lose. Even so, they retain their primary source of personal and emotional support: their wives. In the relatively rare case where a man outlives his wife, he is likely to remarry rather than seek out new friends. With the loss of friends, however, men do lose the stimulation, fun, and camaraderie that goes along with shared interests and activities. Therefore, men who depart from the average and maintain close same-gender friendships throughout life are likely to lead fuller and more satisfying lives in their older adult years.


Friendship is, in many respects, a "comfortable" love relationship. Friendships involve as little or as much intimacy as the partners are inclined to express at any given time. Friends are not normally obligated to exchange benefits, but do so in ways that are often so natural as to be unwitting. The ties that bind them are by unfettered mutual consent. In spite of its being so comfortable, in fact because of it, friendship contributes in unique ways to personal development and well-being.

See also:Affection; Attraction; Intimacy; Loneliness; Love; Peer Influence; Self-Disclosure; Social Networks; Trust


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paul h. wright


views updated Jun 11 2018


Friendship as an institution

Friendship as interaction

Selection of friends

Problems for research


Friendship is a voluntary, close, and enduring social relationship. The behavior of friends varies greatly among societies and situations and according to personality variables. Values about friendship vary less and can be summarized as involving closeness, solidarity, absence of ulterior ends, reciprocity, impulsiveness in mutual choice, and, perhaps, independence of social distinctions such as age, sex, and class. Friendship is intimate but less so than love and some family ties. Supplementing sexual and familialties, friendship is a residual cultural category subsuming close and expectedly enduring ties. Since friendship involves voluntary commitment, intimacy, and spontaneity, its consequences for the individual and for society, through individual growth and security, are presumably crucial. Possibly for this reason, to be without friends often involves shame.

Most other important social relationships exclude friendship. Even highly compatible and close brothers are brothers rather than friends, and friendship tends to be incompatible with such relationships as those of mother and child, lovers, and employer and employee. This incompatibility is probably due to the fact that the obligations and rights of friends typically are subject to overruling by other ties. The impulsiveness of choice and the reciprocity or symmetry of the friendship relation also rule out various choices. If friends are impulsively chosen, few brothers will be friends. Reciprocity and symmetry imply rough equality in mutual rights and obligations and in qualities and performances, requiring fairly equal status in significant respects between friends. In general, friendship can be logically and culturally expected to occur only when there is a low probability of higher or strongly sanctioned obligations intervening directly between friends.

Like distant kinship terms, “friend” is a relational designation: “friend” and “friendship” refer to a relationship between two or more persons rather than to the characteristics of one or more persons. This is in contrast to close kinship terms, which are simultaneously relational and categorical, and to occupational designations, which are on the whole categorical. Accordingly, while friendship is significant in personal terms, it is no less an interpersonal structure. It follows that variants of friendship structure may well be a characteristic of collective units.

In theoretical terms, friendship is definitely a relational phenomenon: it is impossible to assign meaning to statements such as “He is a friend” without implying to whom “he” is related in this way. However, empirically the matter is less clear, partly because the friendship role is vague. Also, the friendship relationship as a social type is made ambiguous by personal descriptions such as “He is friendly,” “He is a great friend,” or “He is every body’s friend.” The suggestion has been made that a highly differentiated society with a high degree of mobility and an emphasis on specific performance cannot also support enduring and important intimate relationships beyond those of the nuclear family. This may be the structural source of “pseudo Gemeinschaft”—that is, appeals, usually commercial, that use a presumption of closeness to transfer modes of behavior from a friendship setting to strangers, with the consequent growth of values of superficial friendship, friendliness, and popularity.

Friendship is a distinct institution. In Western societies (loosely the basis for the above considerations) it is a vague institution, whereas in other societies friendship is often more salient and differentiated. In either case, friendship is a low-order (as well as a crosscutting) institution: it is found everywhere but is not a distinct, comprehensive segment of society. It is comparable to money, language, and love rather than to religion, the family, or the economy. Partly for this reason, friendship is not at present a specialized field of inquiry in sociology. While few studies focus on friendship, many find it, since closeness to others is a pervasive potentiality in man.

Friendship as an institution

To say that friendship is an institution is to ask the cross-cultural question: What links are there between variations in the structure of friendship and in the structure of society? Two studies have initiated the general cross-cultural study of friendship (Eisenstadt 1956; Cohen 1961). At the least, these studies provide a spectrum of variation in friendship institutions; at their best, they provide hypotheses or findings about the place of friendship in encompassing social structures.

Variations between societies

S. N. Eisenstadt’s subject is “ritualized personal relations,” including blood brotherhood, blood friendship, “best” friends, compadre and godparent relations, and cases of contractual servitude. All these relationships are particularistic, personal, voluntary, and fully in stitutionalized (usually in ritual terms). They are both diffusely affective and instrumental, always in the economic sphere, often more broadly (politics, etc.). Eisenstadt hypothesizes that these kinshiplike but voluntary relations are to be found in predominantly particularistic (that is, kinshipdominated or caste-dominated) societies because they alleviate strains in and between the groups that constitute such societies. In effect, Eisenstadt proposes that ritualized personal relations, similar to friendship in Western terms in that they are voluntary and personal or intimate, are mechaisms of social integration. They are parallel to such institutions as kinship extension, extralineage kinship obligations, various types of associations, hospitality toward strangers, and joking relation ships in providing ties cutting across groups and categories. Ritualized personal relations are also mechanisms of social control. [SeeKinship, article on Pseudo-Kinship.]

Yehudi A. Cohen presents a typology of friendship institutions that loosely expresses a dimension of degree of commitment between friends. Inalien able friendship is a variant characterized by ritual or ceremonial entry and, ideally, permanence—in the main corresponding to Eisenstadt’s ritualized personal relations. Three other somewhat separate categories are close, casual, and expedient friendships. In a sample of about sixty societies, twenty have the inalienable type of friendship as the dominant form, thirty have close friendship, three have casual friendship, and four have expedient friendship (there are no data for ten societies, and some are counted twice because of structural changes). Activities in the friendship relation commonly include material exchange (and/or economic as sistance) and sociopolitical and emotional support; in some cases they include the more specialized activities of go-between in love affairs and marriage arrangements, homosexuality, sponsorship in rites of passage, mourning obligations, and exchange of children. Formalized friendship is far more frequent among men than women and is rare across sex lines. Inalienable friendship carries with it incest taboos in half the cases. It is almost invariably joined with just one partner, who in some cases has to be chosen inside the local solidary group and in other cases outside of it; in a few societies either choice is open.

Cohen predicts covariation between type of friendship and the nature of the significant soli dary grouping to which the individual is attached. He expects inalienable friendship to coincide with the maximally solidary community (generally, localized descent groups where nuclear families and households are socially, physically, and emotionally close as a societal nucleus sharply distinguished from other groupings). Close friendship is expected to be associated with the solidary-fissile community (where solidarity is split between kinship group and community). The nonnucleated society (where isolated, solidary nuclear families are tied loosely together) is expected to be associated with casual friendship. Finally, an expedient type of friendship institution is expected to occur in individuated social structures (where there is emphasis on individual amassing of wealth and relatively little solidarity even in the nuclear family).

Roughly speaking, Cohen’s hypotheses are suported by his data. There is an association between the degree of solidarity in the local community and the degree of commitment in the friendship institution (although the number of cases in extreme types of friendship and solidarity is small). Of 13 societies with maximally solidary communities, 11 have predominantly the inalien able type of friendship; of 35 societies with solidaryfissile communities, 27 have close friendship.

Cohen’s interpretation of this finding is in terms of holistic compatibility in culture and personality. A dimension of personal generosity versus with holding seems to be the basic variable that unites community structure with friendship structure. There is a correlation between childhood gratification versus deprivation, on the one hand, and adult food sharing versus individual amassment of food or money on the other. For the present, it remains an open question as to how this holistic pressure can be translated into detailed questions about the operation of social arrangements.

Cohen’s study raises formal questions about his variables: To what extent are his four-point variables adequate and reliable in use? Is inalienable friendship a more significant category than formalized friendship? Further, under what conditions, and with what effects, are intragroup and intergroup friendships mandatory or preferred? The most crucial and stimulating question would seem to be this: Is institutionalized friendship (i.e., ideal and/or dominant forms) a more relevant variable than distribution of actual forms of friendship? This question leads to interesting problems in Western societies. What, in various settings, is the distribution of close, casual, and expedient friendships? Is degree of differentiation of societies correlated with dominance of expedient friendships? Is a possible dominance of expedient friendships to be contrasted with some of our values concerning friendship rather than with our past—or has there been a real change in the friendship institution over, say, the last fifty years, concomitant with industrialization and increasing differentiation?

Variation within one society

Additional dem onstrations of the dependence of norms regulating friendship on an encompassing social structure emerge if we compare separate settings within one society rather than comparing different societies. In a study of the merchant marine in a society where it is a significant element economically and culturally, Aubert and Arner (1959) found that the culture and the social structure of the Norwe gian merchant marine include a near taboo on personal friendships. This trait is probably a conse quence of (as well as a contribution to) other structural elements: the ship is a “total institution” (Goffman 1958); top positions can only be reached from the bottom; there is an extraordinarily high rate of turnover; work roles dominate (to the extent that terms of address and reference are largely job titles, the alternative being home region); there is a cultural and realistic emphasis on crises requiring discipline; and, finally, there is a peculiar combination of equality and inequality (in a number of respects the crew are sailors “in the same boat,” yet each man and his position is unique through pay and shift arrangements). In outline, the occurrence and forms of friendship among the crew are reinforcing consequences of the nature of the ship as a place of work, in particular through its arrangements for interaction, physical closeness, and recruitment. In a significant con trast, friendship is a standard occurrence among the crew in the Hull distant-water fishing fleet (Tunstall 1962); the distant-water trawler lacks the character of the total institution that is inher ent in the Norwegian merchant vessel.

Friendship as interaction

Perhaps the most penetrating study of friendship yet to appear is W. F. Whyte’s Street Corner So ciety (1943), a description and analysis of life in an immigrant slum in the late 1930s. Whyte’s topic is the interaction between young men, the significance of this interaction for individuals, and its relationship to career, welfare work, and poli tics. In the first place, Whyte gives a vivid picture of voluntary association among “Cornerville” young adults. This association is marked by a strong in formal structure. Loosely integrated gangs, con sisting of small cliques, have a clearly hierarchic structure in terms of influence and prestige. Par ticipation and acceptance in these groups are cru cial for the balance of individual personalities. Changing and stable group structure is symboli cally expressed in interaction. The typical group ties the individual to his community in many ways; it takes membership in atypical groups to foster career ambitions beyond Cornerville. In the first place, then, Whyte describes the social realities, of which friendship is the predominant one, for young men in Cornerville. Second, he analyzes the interrelations of friendship and the Cornerville culture with racketeering and politics, which are intimate, as well as with traditional welfare work, which cuts itself off from the mainstream of Cor nerville life.

The kind of friendship structure that Whyte describes is, in all likelihood, unusual. Friendship groups are rarely as highly structured in a hier archy as in Whyte’s community; friends are rarely as dependent on leadership; they are rarely as significant for each other and so often and so regularly in each other’s presence; friends are rarely so sharply segregated from nonfriends; and friends of one person are rarely to such an extent also friends of each other. Whyte described a situ ation that was unusual, arising as it did from the historical accident of a major depression in a lower-class environment of second-generation im migrants.

Several themes above have been investigated in later, more specific studies of friendship. Elizabeth Bott (1957) has investigated friendship networks, stressing the difference between connected networks, where one’s friends are also friends of each other, and open ones, where friends do not make up an interconnected group. Her exploratory study of families and their friends indicates that if a married couple is involved in a close-knit set of friends, the couple tends to have a rigid separation of roles in the household. On the other hand, if the network of friends is loosely connected, separation of roles among husband and wife is at a minimum.

Adolescent friendship

In his study of friendship among young men, Whyte related variants of friendship to career ambitions in distinguishing between “corner boys” and “college boys.” Friendship among adolescents may be more significant than at earlier and later ages, both in general and specifically for career choice. What is the nature and significance of friendship among adolescents? In a discussion of David Riesman’s hypothesized “other-directed” personality type, with its assumed peer dependence among adolescents, Parsons and White (1961) see adolescent friendship as a mechanism for loosening children’s dependence on parents and as a channel for the testing of career choice. Relying on findings from studies of friendship choices in high schools, they conclude that the adolescent’s dependence on peers is far from a seeking of free-floating approval; relations among peers partially consist of commitments to normative standards. Parsons and White emphasize that there are two kinds of normative culture among high school students: one is rather hedonistic, characterized by much value on popularity and reluctance to accept the achievement orientation in the adult world, and the other, which is somewhat less fre quent, includes a strong commitment to mastery of this achievement orientation. The availability of friendship cliques (of either type of culture) is both a sorting mechanism and a testing ground for longterm educational and career commitments.

The finding of two distinct normative cultures among adolescents, one centering on hedonism and the other, nearly as important, on scholastic achievement, is unusual. Coleman (1961) found widely varying social climates in the ten high schools that he studied. In all of them, athletic achievement was the major basis for recruitment to the informal elite of the school; scholastic achievement was always a decidedly minor basis; the strongest position of all was held by the allrounder. Gordon (1957), in a case study of a Midwestern high school, found a salient structure of dominant cliques, within which close friendship might occur. Cliques centering on scholastic achievement were quite unimportant, although students showed increasing fulfillment of school expectations for scholastic achievement with each additional year in school. The students’ school and social life seemed to be dominated by a fierce competition for prestige that was achieved on the basis of conformity to highly developed normative patterns. Adolescent life in school was dominated by efforts to achieve a differentiated social status —that is, essentially a search for identity. Membership in a group gives the protection of being visibly and actively “somebody,” but friendship appears to be largely an instrumental and regulative structure rather than a supportive and permissive one. However, the detailed regulation of behavior implied in the adolescent culture is partly (as in dress) a symbol of autonomy relative to adult society and partly (as in puritan morals) an acceptance of explicit adult values.

In spite of variation in content of adolescent culture and friendship groupings, Parsons and White’s main points are valid: adolescent culture, with cliques forming around variant values, affords standards of right and wrong, affects career choice, and enforces a degree of independence from parents. Nevertheless, the central place of popularity in this adolescent culture leaves Riesman’s claim of a growing “other-directedness” an open issue.

Friendship in work groups

Adolescent friendship approaches being a way of life, although a transitional one, related to love and a future family as well as to work and a future career. Friendship is also important in careers. The influence of friendship on recruitment to and work in a career has been shown in community studies (Warner & Lunt 1941, pp. 188-199; Seeley et al. 1956, p. 135). The importance of friendship in one line of work was shown dramatically by Coleman, Katz, and Menzel (1957): doctors’ adoption of new therapeutic drugs depends to a considerable extent on membership in informal friendship cliques.

The theme of friendship in work has been a significant one in social science at least since the Hawthorne studies in the 1930s. In one setting it was found that a differentiated set of friendship relations among male workers supported a broad normative orientation, including a norm limiting productivity (Roethlisberger & Dickson 1939, part 4). In another setting, friendly relations among female workers were suggested as an explanatory variable behind a continuously climbing curve of productivity under varying and controlled external work conditions (ibid., part 1). The concept of an informal social structure in organizations has been with us since these studies. With respect to friendship or friendly human relations, these two findings have been duplicated over and over again, in industrial and bureaucratic settings as well as in research on problem solving in laboratory groups: friendly relations may lead to either increased or decreased productivity. The normative basis of friendship, particularly the definitions of relations to higher authorities, is presumably one decisive differentiating variable.

Selection of friends

The initial view of friendship given in this article is a romantic one; it is empirical in that it formulates surface values concerning friendship in our culture. However, while it may be true that friends are culturally expected to be chosen im pulsively, it is certain that choice follows socially structured paths. Friends tend to share social position. The tendency of friends to be alike is well illustrated by a finding in a study of a political election that compared voters’ choices with those of their best friends. A sample of voters was divided into four subgroups according to whether three, two, one, or none of their best friends intended to vote for the Republican party; among those whose friends were all intending to vote Republican, 61 per cent expressed strong intentions of voting Republican, and the percentage dropped to 37, to 23, and to 2 for the other three subgroups, respectively (Berelson et al. 1954, p. 99). Two explanatory principles are needed: friends select each other on the basis of similarity, and they in fluence each other to become similar. The system atic study of similarity and dissimilarity between friends was opened up by Lazarsfeld and Merton (1954) when they asked how selectivity comes about and how it varies for different kinds of attributes and within different kinds of social structures. While they clarify many issues in their article (for example, by distinguishing between status-homophily and value-homophily), their contribution has remained programmatic.

Similarity in attitude is one basis on which friendships are formed. Longitudinal studies (e.g., Newcomb 1961) indicate that the explanatory principle of selectivity in terms of similarity outweighs the principle of similarity resulting from friendship. The balance of the evidence for the view that friends select each other on the basis of complementarity of needs rather than on the basis of similarities is negative (Secord & Backman 1964). Findings based on sociometric studies of friendship concerning other bases of choice have been summed up as follows:

. . . a person is likely to choose the following individuals: (1) those with whom he has a greater opportunity to interact, (2) those who have characteristics most describable in terms of the norms and values of the group, (3) those who are most similar to him in attitudes, values, and social-background characteristics, and (4) those whom he perceives as choosing him or assigning favorable characteristics to him, (5) those who see him as he sees himself, and (6) those whose company leads to gratification of his needs. (Secord & Backman 1964, p. 247)

Two theoretical formulations with implications for the study of friendship have appeared in recent years (Thibaut & Kelley 1959; Homans 1961). Both are exchange theories of interaction, where basic terms are costs, rewards, outcomes, and comparison levels. This framework allows the analysis of steps in attraction processes (Secord & Backman 1964, chapter 7): friendship is the outcome of sampling and estimation, bargaining, commitment, and, finally, institutionalization.

Problems for research

Both sociometric findings on friendship and Secord and Backman’s exchange analysis of friendship focus on the initiation of friendship structures; that is, their central theoretical topic is attraction rather than established friendship relations. Research on friendship needs more concentration on the substantive contents of friendship itself. How, in fact, are rights and obligations in friendship experienced in various social environments? What are the institutional and actual encouragements and limits to friendship in various contexts—politics, business, everyday life? What are the major rewards and strains in friendships? Is the ambiguity of friendship a circumstance that serves to initiate as well as to terminate other kinds of relationships? Under what conditions will friendships end? Is friendship, more often than other types of relationships, a subjectively sustained reality in the face of decreased overt inter action? For partial answers to such questions, and for the generation of other specific and significant questions about friendship, analysis of detailed reports on the behavior and orientations of friends, acquaintances, strangers, and enemies in everyday life is required. It would seem that such studies, which demand more descriptive patience than we now see in social science, can give a rich yield, since friendship, as a kind of cement in personality and social fabrics, is probably more strategically related to other social relationships than research has indicated so far.

Odd RamsØy

[Other relevant material may be found inLeadershipandSociometry.]


Aubert, Vilhelm;and Arner, Oddvar1959 On the Social Structure of the Ship. Ada sociologica 3:200–219.

Berelson, Bernard; Lazarsfeld, Paul F.; and Mcphee, William N. 1954 Voting: A Study of Opinion For mation in a Presidential Campaign. Univ. of Chicago Press.

Bott, Elizabeth1957 Family and Social Network: Roles, Norms, and External Relationships in Ordinary Urban Families. London: Tavistock.

Cohen, Yehudi A. 1961 Social Structure and Personality. New York: Holt.

Coleman, James S. 1961 The Adolescent Society: The Social Life of the Teenager and Its Impact on Education. New York: Free Press.

Coleman, James S.; Katz, Elihu;and Menzel, Herbert 1957 The Diffusion of an Innovation Among Physicians. Sociometry 20:253–270.

Eisenstadt, Shmuel N. 1956 Ritualized Personal Relations. Man 56:90–95.

Goffman, Erving1958 The Characteristics of Total Institutions. Pages 43-84 in Symposium on Preventive and Social Psychiatry. A symposium held at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research in 1957. Washington: Government Printing Office.

Gordon, Cwayne1957 The Social System of the High School: A Study in the Sociology of Adolescence. Glen-coe, 111.: Free Press.

Homans, George C. 1961 Social Behavior: Its Elementary Forms. New York: Harcourt.

Lazarsfeld, Paulf.; and Merton, Robert K. 1954 Friendship as a Social Process: A Substantive and Methodological Analysis. Pages 18-66 in Morroe Berger, Theodore Abel, and Charles H. Page (editors), Freedom and Control in Modern Society. Princeton, N.J.: Van Nostrand.

Naegele, Kaspard. 1958 Friendship and Acquaintances: An Exploration of Some Social Distinctions. Harvard Educational Review 28:232–252.

Newcomb, Theodorem. 1961 The Acquaintance Process. New York: Holt.

Parsons, Talcott;and White, Winston 1961 The Link Between Character and Society. Pages 89-135 in Seymour Lipset and Leo Lowenthal (editors), Culture and Social Character: The Work of David Riesman Reviewed. New York: Free Press.

Roethlisberger, Fritzj.; and Dckson, Williamj.(1939) 1961 Management and the Worker: An Ac count of a Research Program Conducted by the Western Electric Company, Hawthorne Works, Chicago. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Press.→ A paperback edition was published in 1964 by Wiley.

Secord, Paulfw.; and Backman, Carl. 1964 Social Psychology. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Seeley, Johnr. et al. 1956 Crestwood Heights: A Study of the Culture of Suburban Life. New York: Basic Books.

Thibaut, Johnw; and Kelley, Harold.H. 1959 The Social Psychology of Groups. New York: Wiley.

Tunstall, Jeremy 1962 The Fishermen. London: Mac-Gibbon & Kee.

Warner, W. Lloyd;and Lunt, Paul S. 1941 The Social Life of a Modern Community. New Haven: Yale Univ. Press.

Whyte, William F. (1943) 1961 Street Corner Society: The Social Structure of an Italian Slum. 2d ed., enl. Univ. of Chicago Press.


views updated May 09 2018


The visibility of "friendship" in historical writings has fluctuated over time. For the ancient Greeks and Romans, friendship was the dominant paradigm. In medieval Europe, Christian teachings subordinated human friendship to spiritual friendship. In the modern period, with its focus on impartiality, friendship was relegated to the private sphere. Toward the end of the twentieth century there was a revival of writings on friendship, with a resumption of discussions about the role of friendship in society, and debates about the politics and the ethics of friendship. Friendship, which involves close personal relations, affection, caring for and commitment to another, is intertwined with other emotions such as love, passion, patronage, spiritual love, sexual love, romance, and kinship. Different aspects and interpretations of friendship have been emphasized in different eras.

Male-Male Friendship

Anthropological evidence gives many examples of the role of friendship in different societies and cultures. For example, the Arapesh of northwestern New Guinea, the Hopi of Arizona, and the Tikopia in the Solomons created ritual or ceremonial bonds of non-kin friendship, mainly between males. Yet the traditions that focused most explicitly on friendship were the societies of classical Greece and Rome, and it is the treatises of Plato, Aristotle, and Cicero that form the linchpin around which the subsequent philosophical debate has turned or to which it will return. Most of the classical philosophical writing on friendship presupposes a sociological context of male-male friendship. Greek writers, such as Plato and Xenophon reporting on Socrates' teaching, discuss eros and philia almost interchangeably to describe the very close relationship between men or between men and boys. Aristotle limits his concept of perfect altruistic friendship to men of virtue. The extension of friendship into a civic bond between fellow citizens is, for Aristotle, the ideal basis for politics. Cicero's accounts of friendship or amicitia in ancient Rome are also linked to politics and describe not only personal male heterosexual friendship, but also the concept of patronage, which sustained business and political relationships.

The ancient canon of friendship, which stresses the interests of the "other self," reciprocal consideration, and the role of friendship in contributing to a virtuous and good life, was superseded, in the medieval period, by the concept of spiritual friendship. With the rise of Christianity and hieratic religions, based on a divinity and priesthood, the relationship between man and godhead assumed prominence. The guiding emotions in religions with a supreme and omnipotent god, and especially in Christianity, were agape, or the love of God, and caritas, or charity toward others. Concepts of love and friendship were redefined by monks and theologians, as human relationships were triangulated to include God as an essential mediating force between human friendships. St. Augustine (354430), Aethelred of Rievaulx (c. 11101167), and Thomas Aquinas (12251274), reworking the treatises of Plato, Aristotle, and Cicero, write of spiritual friendsthe need to love God in order to make possible friendships between men.

Other religious traditions also synthesize classical ideas of friendship. The Muslim theologian al-Ghazali (10581111) builds on the Aristotelian ideal of friendship, overlaying it with notions of the spiritual bond of Sufi brotherhood. Moses ben Maimon (Maimonides; 11351204) the Jewish sage, reflects both Socratic and Aristotelian ideas in advocating the importance of finding a friend.

In the modern period, few philosophers have considered friendship worthy of attention, with some notable exceptions. Francis Bacon (15611626) and Ralph Waldo Emerson (18031882) write in praise of friendship. For Michel de Montaigne (15331592), his friendship with the writer Étienne de La Boétie (15301563) represented a pure and unique experience of the finest thing in life, but was unobtainable by most men and all women. Friedrich Nietzsche (18441900) challenges the complaisance he sees in the thinking about friendship. He describes a friend as the "third" between I and me, with the true friend being one's best enemy. Like Aristotle and Montaigne, he considers that only "higher" forms of humans are capable of friendships. Jacques Derrida continues Nietzsche's interrogation, using the mantra "O my friend, there is no friend" to illustrate the contradictions and anomalies in the history and politics of friendship, including the omission of women in this history of friendship. The distinction between love and friendship becomes, for Derrida, submerged into ideas of "aimance" or "lovence."

Female-Male Friendship

Most philosophy, poetry, and literature discusses male-female relationships in terms of eros, romance, passion, sex, and marriage, rather than friendship. Friendship between males and females was acknowledged by some of the ancients, but almost exclusively as husband and wife. In Homer's Odyssey, Penelope had a role in extending xenia or guest friendship to various visitors to the family home in the absence of her husband, Odysseus. Her loyalty to Odysseus meant that this relationship got no closer. Lucius Annaeus Seneca (c. 4 b.c.e.65 c.e.) and Plutarch (c. 46after 119 c.e.) both write about the importance of friendship between husband and wife. The only philosopher of antiquity to consider women and men as equally capable of engaging in friendship was Epicurus (341270 b.c.e.), whose Garden of Friends was open to allmen, women, and slaves.

Courtly love of the Middle Ages and the idealized relationships of the Romantic era emphasized not equal affectionate friendships, but unattainable, idealized, and exclusive male-female intimacy. It was the movement for women's equality that transformed relationships for women, both with men and with other women. The personal and political were combined in, for example, the friendships of one of the first feminists, Mary Wollstonecraft (17591797), during the French revolution with dissenters such as Richard Price (17231791) and Joseph Priestly (17331803), or in the bohemian literary and art circles of the early twentieth century, as with the New Zealand writer Katherine Mansfield and the Scottish painter J. D. Ferguson. Women's participation in the civil rights and the antiwar movements in the 1960s brought men and women together as friends fighting political battles. However, the concurrent sexual revolution, which endeavored to free women from the restraints of Victorian attitudes, focused on uninhibited carnal relationships rather than nonsexual friendships. The literature of heterosexual relationships became dominated by the field of psychology and includes warnings to women to avoid "love addiction" or advice about sexual enjoyment.

Female-Female Friendship

For women, whose traditional role has been in the home, social mobility meant that friendship assumed more importance as kinship ties were stretched or broken. Stories, such as the Old Testament account of Ruth and Naomi, two women related by marriage, illustrate the strength of female kinship. When friendship between women is discussed, it includes both lesbian and nonlesbian relationships. The love poems of the best-known woman writer of antiquity, Sappho (fl. c. 610c. 580 b.c.e.), could be describing both heterosexual and lesbian relationships, but her community of women on the island of Lesbos has become the symbol of modern lesbianism.

Medieval monastic writings often portray women as a danger to men, the object of inferior emotions such as carnal desire. Suspicion was also cast upon groups of women living together in convents, especially as the nuns adopted Aethelred's notion of spiritual friendship, a companionship of souls, which sanctioned particular intimate friendships. The writings of women mystics and saints, such as Teresa of Ávila (15151582) Catherine of Siena (13471380), and Juana Inés de la Cruz, (16511695), expressed passionate love of the souls of their sisters.


Philia: friendship

Eros: passionate/sexual love

Agape: unselfish love

Amicitia: friendship/patronage

Caritas: charity

Lovence: friendship/romance

Aimance: friendship/romance

Gyn/affection: female friendship

Xenia: guest friendship

For evidence of women's friendships, we have to rely not on the treatises written about male friendships, but on personal correspondence, diaries, novels, and poetry. Nineteenth-century romantic friendships between women were expressed in affectionate letters to each other. The suffragettes of the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century interspersed their political communication with expressions of personal friendship.

Women's friendships with women, as well as with men, became civic bonds important for politics in the twentieth century. The second wave of feminism in the 1960s, with its slogan of "the personal is political," produced a women's network of consciousness-raising groups. Women relied on the friendship of other women for support. Janice Raymond's term "Gyn/affection" aims to describe female friendships involving not only fondness and affection, but also the sense of empowerment that female friendships can create.


Contemporary writings on friendship all point to a lacuna in modern literature. But toward the end of the twentieth century this gap was being addressed by various challenges, both to the impartiality of liberalism and to the objectivity of modernism by movements such as communitarianism, feminism, and post-modernism, which created a rich and ongoing scholarly debate and which resurrected some of the ideals of classical philosophy in an attempt to recognize the valuable role that can be played by friendship in the twenty-first century.

See also Emotions ; Feminism ; Love, Western Notions of .


Badhwar, Neera Kapur, ed. Friendship: A Philosophical Reader. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1993.

Bell, Sandra, and Simon Coleman. The Anthropology of Friendship. Oxford: Berg, 1999.

Blosser, Philip, and Marshell Carl Bradley, eds. Friendship: Philosophic Reflections on a Perennial Concern. Lantham, New York, and Oxford: University Press of America, 1997.

Derrida, Jacques. Politics of Friendship. Translated by George Collins. London and New York: Verso, 1997.

Hunt, Mary E. Fierce Tenderness: A Feminist Theology of Friendship. New York: Crossroad, 1991.

Hutter, Horst. Politics as Friendship: The Origins of Classical Notions of Politics in the Theory and Practice of Friendship. Waterloo, Ont.: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 1978.

King, Preston, and Heather Devere, eds. The Challenge to Friendship in Modernity. London: Frank Cass, 2000.

Leaman, Oliver, ed. Friendship East and West: Philosophical Perspectives. Richmond: Curzon, 1996.

Pakaluk, Michael. Other Selves: Philosophers on Friendship. Indianapolis: Hackett, 1991.

Raymond, Janice. A Passion for Friends: Toward a Philosophy of Female Affection. Boston: Beacon, 1986.

Rouner, Leroy S., ed. The Changing Face of Friendship. Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 1994.

Heather Devere


views updated May 21 2018


A reciprocal relationship of affection or sympathy between persons of the same sex or at least independent of sexual attraction, and based on a community of nature and of interests, the latter of a spiritual kind. This article traces the historical development of the concept, presents a systematic analysis in traditional Catholic terms, and concludes with an evaluation of the role of friendship in Christianity.

History. The basic formulation of the definition of friendship took place in the context of Greco-Roman culturethe beginnings of the classical development in Greek antiquity and the remainder in Roman society. Later centuries added little to the essentials that were there discerned.

Greek Antiquity. The Greek naturalists were the first to speak of friendship, and this in connection with efforts to offer a rational explanation for changes going on in nature. They conceived of friendship as the basic principle of attraction and repulsion that governed the combining actions whereby material bodies were formed from their elemental constituents. Most of their discussions were concerned with the question of whether friendship was basically a union of contraries or a union of things with similar characteristics.

With socrates, Greek thought began to restrict friendship to a relationship between persons and to give it a precise psychological meaning. In fact, friendship figured so importantly in Socrates's thought that he set himself to teach and to practice the art of acquiring friends. Following his example, both plato and aristotle attracted their disciples more as friends than as students, so much so that L. Dugas could remark that the philosophical schools of ancient Greece were "not so much schools as they were associations of friends" (23).

Aristotle presents perhaps the most complete analysis of friendship in classical antiquity in bk. 8 of his Nicomachean Ethics. Rejecting the equivocal usage of his naturalist predecessors, he restricts friendship (φιλία) to a type of accord among human persons and distinguishes it from the love (φίλησις) that is also properly human. He approaches its definition indirectly by considering it as a form of attraction and finds its basis in being liked, whether this be for interest, or pleasure, or virtue. He thus distinguishes three kinds of friendship: that based on utility, which unites opposites, and those based on pleasure and virtue, which unite similars. Friendships based on utility or on pleasure care less for the friend than for the good he affords, and for this reason are less stable, ceasing as they do when their motivation disappears. Friendship based on virtue, on the other hand, is more perfect; in fact it is friendship par excellence, for in its case the friends seek each other for what they are, rather than for what they give. Again, it is more stable than other friendships because it is based on virtue, which itself is enduring, and at the same time has all of their prerogatives, for those whom it unites are pleasurable and useful for each other. Yet it is rarely found, partly because there are few who are capable of it, and partly because of the time involved in discovering and cultivating those persons who may be worthy of it.

Finally, for Aristotle, friendship thrives only when there is some community in living (συνζ[symbol omitted]ν). Those who reciprocally and consciously seek the good in each other, but are unable to associate and communicate for one reason or other, cannot strictly become friends. The element of community involved in friendship was understood differently, however, by various Greeks: the Pythagoreans saw it as a community of resources; Aristotle, as a community of likes and interests; and the Epicureans and Stoics, as a community of philosophical beliefs.

Roman Society. Among the Romans, cicero held a position analogous to that of Aristotle among the Greeks as their principal theorist of friendship. Less profound than Aristotle, perhaps, he made up for this by the charm and warmth of his treatment. He based his notion of friendship on the instinct for sociability that is found in man, defining it as a perfect agreement of wills, tastes, and thoughts accompanied by benevolence and affection. Nothing, in his estimation, is more adapted to human nature than this type of accord. Other goods such as riches, health, power, and honor are uncertain and defectible; only friendship is really enduring, because it is based upon virtue. It can be found only among good men, for they alone have the loyalty and integrity to sustain it and lack the cupidity and passion that destroy it. True friendship is not easily found, he admits; but once found, it is forever.

The reason why true friendships are rare, for Cicero, is that few are worthy of being loved in and for themselves and many seek to make friends purely for pleasure or for profit. A true friend must be another self; thus if one desires to find friends, he must become good himself and then seek out someone similar. Cicero saw friendship as an aid to virtue, since good people who are benevolent to each other become masters of their passions and preserve virtue in one another. This explains why Cicero insisted that one should choose his friends well, for a failure of judgment could cause one to become attached to a person who would later do him harm, and then would not be a true friend.

Later Centuries. The thoughts of Aristotle and Cicero on the subject of friendship have remained classic. They passed on to the Fathers of the Church, such as St. augustine and St. ambrose; to scholastic doctors and theologians, such as St. aelred, St. thomas aquinas, and St. francis de sales; and to secular writers, such as M. E. de montaigne. They thus constitute a heritage that has become traditional in the Western world. Modern psychologists have complemented their doctrines on points of detail, and philosophers have subjected them to searching analyses, but neither have contradicted them in their essential elements.

Systematic Analysis. With this historical background, it becomes possible to present an analysis of the concept of friendship that describes its psychological characteristics, its metaphysical nature, and its moral aspect.

Psychological Characteristics. Friendship is first of all an attraction; seen externally, its principal effect is one of dynamism, for friends seek one another out and are not happy unless they are together. When proximity is spatially impossible, the attraction manifests itself by the one's turning his thoughts and desires to the other.

Second, friendship involves affection, being based on an emotion known among the Greeks as φίνησις and among the Latins as amatio. It is because a man loves his friend that he is attracted to him in various ways. This emotion is more interior than exterior, and one senses it without always being able to see it; yet it is occasionally discernible, sometimes by gestures, sometimes by smiles or even by tears.

Third, friendship is a reciprocal affection. It is only when an ντιφίλησις responds to the φίλνησις;, or a redamatio to the amatio, that one can speak of true friendship (φιλία, amicitia ). This explains why inanimate things cannot be friends or the object of friendship; a man may love wine, but wine cannot be his friend. Again, the reciprocity involved in friendship explains why it grows and deepens with each return of affection, for it involves a type of psychological resonance based on the phenomenon of love's provoking more love in ever-increasing proportions.

Fourth, friendship is a union of a spiritual kind. There are reciprocal affective responses even at the level of brute animals, and yet one does not speak of these as friendship. What is peculiar to friendship is its concern with the intellectual life, not with the life of sense. Its activity has a certain independence from matter, and it provokes a spiritual union, i.e., one based on intellect and will and feeling, and thus properly human. This is why Aristotle could maintain that friendship can exist only between persons.

Fifth, friendship is a disinterested type of relationship. Persons may voluntarily associate for a variety of reasons, such as for profit or for pleasure; but what these associations have in common is that they promote the interest of the one entering into them. The peculiar association that is friendship is more noble and ideal than these, for it sets aside personal gain and, in this sense, is disinterested. The true friend is such because of the qualities he finds in the other; this explains why he will make sacrifices for his friend and do things with no thought of what he himself gets out of them. This also explains why friendship has a lasting character, for monetary and sensual interests are subject to frequent change, whereas the virtuous qualities that attract a friend are stable and enduring.

Finally, perfect friendship is a fusion of souls. Spiritual and disinterested relationships can be more or less intimate, but at their best they encompass all the activities of the souls engaging in them. The effect of this perfect friendship, in the expression of Aristotle and Augustine (Conf. 4.6.11), is to put but "one soul in two bodies." Then everything is held in common; the distinction between the "I" and the "Thou" disappears; and there results the highest type of unity to be found among men.

Metaphysical Nature. Friendship manifests itself by its acts, but such acts presuppose the reality that is friendship just as volition presupposes the will and judgment presupposes the intellect. This reality is not a power or faculty of the soul, because it is not inborn in man; rather it involves an acquired disposition, a habit, that exists in man's rational appetitive faculty, or will. This habit is actualized, as Aquinas teaches, when one friend "informs" the affection of the other. As henry of ghent and richard of middleton observed, however, habits of this type must exist in each person involved in the friendship, and thus the habits themselves must be numerically distinct. The reality that is friendship must therefore be a relation that is based on two absolute habits; one may refer to each habit as friendship in the person participating in it, but the notion is not complete unless it includes the relationship that unites one habit to the other.

Thomas Aquinas and other theologians who study friendship in the context of man's relationship with God generally speak of it as a kind of love; they see the "love of friendship" as the highest form of love, and oppose it to the "love of concupiscence" (Summa theologiae 1a2ae, 26.34). From this viewpoint, one may define friendship as a love of benevolence, something held in common and based on the mutual regard of its participants. Lower forms of love are at the level of sense; they seek pleasure and self-gratification, and this is true even of the sexual love whereby man is prompted to conserve his species (see sex). The love of friendship, on the other hand, is of a higher order; it is essentially spiritual, and thus serves well to explain the optimum relationship that unites man to God (see charity).

Moral Aspect. Friendship as such is good, and therefore is legitimate for man. It is, in fact, beneficial for his soul: the companion of virtue, it may itself be considered as a virtue in the one possessing it. Yet it places demands on those who embrace it, and in certain circumstances, particularly when too restrictive, can be harmful and even vicious. (For a fuller discussion, particularly as related to the spiritual life, see friendship, particular.)

Role in Christianity. The fact of being a Christian in no way changes man's nature or his needs. It is thus possible for Christians, while living a supernatural life, to have purely human friendships among themselves. There is nothing distinctively Christian about such friendships, however, unless Christianity in some way enters into the relationships and transposes them to a higher level.

Some have seen an opposition between the teaching of the pagans on friendship and the New Law given to men by Jesus Christ. For example, Jesus prescribes charity toward man's neighbor, and this independently of one's particular feelings and personal likes or dislikes. Such a prescription seems to deprive friendship of its proper character; for, rather than seek something selective and personal, the Christian is urged to a universal attitude of love toward all men, and this by obligation rather than by free choice. Thus the pagan ideal of friendship seems to be absorbed in charity, and itself destroyed in the process. Again, the perfection of the love of God, as conceived by such spiritual writers as St. ignatius of loyola, seems to demand of man that he transfer all of his affection from creatures to his Creator; thus the renunciation of human friendships seems to be the ideal toward which the perfect Christian should tend.

There is some element of truth in these considerations, but at the same time it is possible to oppose them by others that argue for the basic compatibility between friendship and charity. For one, Christianity has focused attention on the dignity of the individual independent of his place in society; it has liberated man more from matter by accenting the immortality of his soul. Such a liberation can only favor friendship, for it provides the basis for greater personal appreciation of one's fellow men. Much the same can be said for the teaching on the universality of the Redemption, for this too proclaims the equality of all souls in God's sight. Finally, by the gift of supernatural life, Christianity has made numberless human souls incomparably better and therefore more worthy of love; it has increased their resemblance to one another and has thus provided a new basis of community among them.

De facto, friendship does exist among Christians. It has never flourished so much as it has since the promulgation of the gospel, nor has it ever been so pure and so noble in its practice and its ideals.

Bibliography: g. vansteenberghe, Dictionnaire de spiritualité ascétique et mystique. Docrine et histoire, ed. m. viller et al. (Paris 1932) 1:500529. w. m. rankin and st. george stock, Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics, ed. j. hastings (Edinburgh 190827) 6:131138. e. centineo, Enciclopedia filosofica (Venice-Rome 1957) 1:168169. e. biser, Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, ed. j. hofer and k. rahner (Freiberg 195765) 4:363364. j. de vries and h. van oyen, Die Religion in Geschichte und Gegenwart (Tübingen 195765) 2:112832. l. dugas, L'Amitié antique (2d ed. Paris 1914). p. philippe, Le Rôle de l'amitié selon la doctrine de saint Thomas (Rome 1937). a. oddone, L'amicizia (Milan 1937). m. nÉdoncelle, La Réciprocité des consciences (Paris 1942). p. j. wadell, Friendship and the Moral Life (Notre Dame, Ind. 1989). g. meilaender, Friendship, a Study in Theological Ethics (Notre Dame, Ind. 1981).

[w. a. wallace]


views updated May 08 2018


Theorists generally conceptualize "friendship" as a voluntary relationship between equals. This definition of friendship is an abstract conceptualization rather than a description of reality. As Graham Allan observed, in Western society there are no formal rules about who should be friends, but people generally establish relationships with others who are similar to them in terms of race, gender, class, religion, education, and so forth. Although friendships are generally more voluntary than relationships with family and neighbors, this tendency for people to be similar to their friends suggests that there are constraints on friendship choice that are not obvious to the participants. If no hidden rules about what types of friendships are appropriate or desirable existed, friendship patterns would exhibit more variation. Similarly, the statement that friendships are egalitarian is a theoretical rather than an empirical observation.

Older adults define friendship differently than theorists do. Adams, Blieszner, and De Vries found that older adults tend to define friendships in terms of the concrete behaviors involved such as self-disclosure, sociability, day-today assistance, and shared activities. Many of them also define friendship cognitively in terms of loyalty, trustworthiness, and shared interests. Not all older adults conceptualize friendship in the same way, however. For example, Paul Wright described women's friendships as face-to-face and men's as side-by-side and concluded that older women emphasize the emotional qualities of friendship. In contrast, older men mention indirect indicators of shared friendship activities such as frequency of contact or length of acquaintance. Lawrence Weiss and Marjorie Lowenthal reported on another source of variation, stage of life course; older adults perceive more complexity than younger people.

Research on the dimensions of older adult friendship

Most of the research on adult friendship has been conducted since the early 1970s. Early studies focused on the number of friends people had and how much time they spent with them. More recently researchers have shifted their focus to the study of other aspects of friendship structure such as what proportion of people's friends know each other, whether the friends treat each other as equals, and whether they are demographically similar to each other, to dimensions of friendship process such as feelings, thoughts and behaviors involved in a relationship, and finally to the variation in both friendship structure and process across contexts. As Adams and Allan discussed elsewhere, these changes in foci reflect the realization that friendships are complex and that they vary tremendously depending on the network, community, and society in which they are formed and maintained.

Gerontologists have examined friendship processes more closely than they have examined friendship structure. In addition to the studies of what people think about their friends, such as those on how older adults define friendship mentioned above, gerontologists have researched how older adults feel about their friends and what they do with and for them. For example, some researchers have reported that older adults feel more satisfied with their friendships when the favors they do for their friends are reciprocated, but Karen Roberto and Jean Scott found that reciprocity was less important among close friends than among casual ones. This finding has implications for the durability of friendships as people age and can no longer help others as much as they could when they were younger.

Most of the research on older friendship, however, has focused on what friends do together, such as sharing companionship, communicating with each other, and especially helping each other. Eugene Litwak noted that in contrast to family members who help older adults with tasks that require long-term commitment, friends are more likely to help older adults with shorter-term tasks or events that they share in common. For example, the friends of older adults might help them adjust to widowhood, make a decision about when to retire, and decide whether to relocate, whereas family members might nurse older adults with chronic physical problems or manage their finances. The difference in the ways which friends and family members may help older adults may have implications for the welfare of older adults without families.

The research findings on the structural features of older adult friendships are much less conclusive than those about its processes. More research has been conducted on the size of older adult friendship networks and how similar friends are to each other than how likely the friends of an older adult are to know each other. Power and status differentials between older adults and their friends have not been studied at all.

Each study of friendship reports a slightly different average number of friends for older adults. Some of the variation in findings can be attributed to differences in the contexts in which older adults live. For example, researchers commonly report that institutionalized older adults report fewer friends than those who live independently. Differences in the demographic composition of the populations studied also contribute to varied results. For example, like many other researchers, Claude Fisher and Stacey Oliker reported that older men have fewer friends than older women. This suggests that researchers who study samples of older adults in which women are overrepresented will report more friends on the average. The age composition of the sample also affects the average number of friends reported. Many early studies reported that the older adults were, the fewer friends they had. Given these findings, one would expect researchers who study populations in which the average age is high to report a smaller number of friends than those who study younger populations. It would be a mistake, however, to assume that a loss of friends with age is inevitable, universal, and linear, because other researchers such as Colleen Johnson and Lillian Troll and more recently Dorothy Jerrome and Clare Wenger, have demonstrated that some people continue to add new friends to their networks as they age.

The findings regarding the similarity of older adults and their friends and the proportion of the friends of older adults who knew each other also vary by study. It is clear, however, for older adults as well as for people of other ages, that the characteristics of a contest affect the characteristics of the networks embedded within it. For example, Pearl Dykstra and others have reported that during old age the proportion of women's friends who are women is higher than the proportion of men's friends who are men. Although this gender difference exists in all age groups, it is larger in old age, probably because women live longer and thus more of them are available to be friends. The tendency to form relationships with people who are similar to them and the relatively low proportion of men who reach old age suggests that men may be at a disadvantage in establishing new friendships and women may have difficulty developing a diverse network. As Litwak observed, a diverse friendship network is desirable because different types of friends have access to different resources and can help older adults in varied ways.

Studies of the proportion of an older adult's friends who know each other also illustrate the importance of contextual effects. Comparing results in studies of different contexts reveals that the friends of older adults in nursing homes are more likely to know one another than the friends of older adults in age-segregated housing, and that friends of older adults in age-segregated housing are more likely to know one another then the friends living in age-integrated community settings (Blieszner and Adams). The proportion of people's friends who know each other has implications for the types of help they can seek from them. Consider a situation in which an older woman expects to be bedridden for a substantial period of time. If a high proportion of her friends know one another, only one phone call may be necessary to activate a helping network. If, however, her friends do not know each other, then a whole series of phone calls may be necessary. In contrast, imagine an older man with a secret to share. If his friends all know each other, he may worry gossip will spread. If his friends do not know each other, he can be confident that his story will not be retold to anyone who matters to him.

How friends influence the lives of older adults

Studies have suggested that friendships contribute to physical health and longevity, possibly because friendship and happiness are associated with each other. Since the 1960s when Majorie Lowenthal and Clayton Haven demonstrated that having a confidante was important to older adult mental health, or certainly since the 1970s when Reed Larson summarized the clear connection between friendship activity and psychological well-being, gerontologists have assumed that friendship has positive consequences for older adults. The connection between friendship activity and psychological well-being is one of the most frequently reported findings in the social gerontology literature.

Nonetheless, it is not clear whether friendship leads to happiness or happiness leads to friendship, because researchers have not studied multiple groups born at different times repeatedly as they age. It is only recently that researchers have begun to compare the friendship patterns among older adults of various ages and to examine friendship patterns over time (see Field, for a discussion of some of these studies). It is also not clear how consistently friendship activity and happiness are related to each other in different cultures, because cross-cultural research on older adult friendship has been and is still rare. Until longitudinal studies of multiple cohorts in different contexts have been conducted, the consequences of friendship will be implicit rather than explicit.

Rebecca G. Adams

See also Kin; Sibling Relationships; Social Support.


Adams, R. G., and Allan, G., eds. Placing Friendship In Context. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1998.

Adams, R. G., Blieszner, R.; and De Vries, B. "Definitions of Friendship in the Third Age: Age, Gender, and Study Location Effects." Journal of Aging Studies 14, no. 1 (2000): 117133.

Allan, G. "Friendship, Sociology and Social Structure." Journal of Personal Relationships 15, no. 5 (1998): 685702.

Blieszner, R., and Adams, R. G. Adult Friendship. Newbury Park, Calif.: Sage, 1992.

Dykstra, P. A. Next of (Non)kin. Amsterdam: Swets and Zeitlinger, 1990.

Field, D. "A Cross Cultural Perspective on Continuity and Change in Social Relations in Old Age: An Introduction to a Special Issue." The International Journal of Aging and Human Development 48, no. 4 (1999): 257351.

Fischer, C. S., and Oliker, S. J. "A Research Note on Friendship, Gender, and the Life Cycle." Social Forces 62 (1983): 124133.

Jerrome, D., and Wenger, G. C. "Stability and Change in Late Life Friendships." Aging and Society 19, no. 6 (1999): 661676.

Johnson, C. L., and Troll, L. E. "Constraints and Facilitators to Friendships in Late Life." The Gerontologists 34 (1994): 7987.

Larson, R. "Thirty Years of Research in the Subjective Well-Being of Older Americans." Journal of Gerontology 33 (1978): 109125.

Litwak, E. Helping the Elderly. New York: Guilford, 1985.

Lowenthal, M., and Haven, C. "Interaction and Adaptation: Intimacy as a Critical Variable." American Sociological Review 33 (1968): 2030.

Roberto, K., and Scott, J. P. "Friendships of Older Men and Women: Exchange Patterns and Satisfaction." Psychology and Aging 1 (1986): 103109

Weiss, L., and Lowenthal, M. F. "Life-Course Perspectives on Friendship." In Four Stages of Life. Edited by M. E. Lowenthal, M. Thurner, D. Chiriboga, and others. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1975. Pages 4861.

Wright, P. "Men's Friendships, Women' Friendships, and the Alleged Inferiority of the Latter." Sex Roles 8 (1978): 120.


views updated May 23 2018


Discussions of the experience and the value of friendship, construed primarily in male terms, pervade Western cultural and literary tradition. The late-twentieth-century feminist reassessment of the uniqueness and significance of female friendship stimulated a variety of empirical investigations of the characteristics and function of friendship in contemporary society as well as several social historical examinations of the nature of past friendships. The latter work yielded two major new insights: the recognition that friendship is a socially constructed, historical phenomenon, mediated by the dominant emotional culture and various social and structural factors in a particular periodgender socialization, for exampleand the recognition that friends have played a variety of important, and sometimes central, roles in the lives of both women and men.

Recent social scientific studies indicate that friendship also plays a significant role in children's lives from birth to adolescence. While social relations within the family constitute a major component of the social environments of children, peer relations, including friendships, represent another important context for socialization. Psychologists have observed friendships between infants as young as eight or ten months. By the age of three, the development of social skills creates a wide range of friendship possibilities, and by the age of five, children can pretend and play creatively. Between the ages of seven and twelve, friends still function as playmates, but they also provide mutual respect and affirmation. In adolescence, as in adulthood, female friendship involves a major component of trust and personal disclosure.

As children's social groups expand to include more than one "best" friend or a small, informal circle of close friends, their friends may be drawn from organized peer groups such as school classes, athletic teams, special interest clubs, scout troops, or gangs. Such groups also comprised significant social environments for nineteenth-and twentieth-century children. Factors such as access to schooling, period of compulsory schooling, length of school day, school size, diversity versus homogeneity of student body, and urban or suburban setting shaped children's social worlds and thus influenced their friendship patterns in the past. The modern history of friendship must deal with the growing importance of schooling as a bastion of friendship and a need for friends. Increasingly precise age-grading within schools has had a strong effect on the range of children's friendships. However, data concerning children's actual interactions with one another are not readily available for the historian who seeks to trace change and continuity in those patterns.

Some historians argue that the high proportion of childhood deaths in the premodern Western world conditioned children not to invest emotionally in their playmates, but we know very little about childhood friendship prior to the eighteenth century. The presence of large numbers of siblings also affected friendships outside the family. As with the history of childhood more generally, accessible sources of information about children's friendships from the eighteenth century on primarily reflect the point of view of middle-class adults. For example, child-rearing manuals, children's books, travelers' accounts, and the diaries and correspondence of parents document middle-class standards and cultural prescriptions and expectations for children's friendships. Yet these sources reveal little regarding either children's actual friendship practices and experiences in small, face-to-face groups or their feelings about their friends. Direct information concerning the dynamics of young children's friendships is particularly difficult to find, but sources such as autograph books, photographs, diaries, journals, and letters can offer insight into the experiences and feelings of older children and adolescents. Autobiographic recollections can also provide data about individuals' childhood friendships, albeit through the filter of memory. Despite the limitations of the available sources and the absence of a fully developed historical perspective on friendship in general, the outlines of a history of this aspect of childhood experience are beginning to emerge.

Girls and Friendship

Late-eighteenth- and early-nineteenth-century Western culture promoted the development of strong female friendships. Didactic and prescriptive middle-class literature emphasized affiliation as opposed to achievement as the appropriate focus for women's lives and assigned them a subordinate place in the social hierarchy. Shared religious, educational, biological, and domestic experiences created powerful bonds between women and constructed a world of intimacy and support that distanced them from their male relatives. Victorian emotional standards, which began to take shape in the 1820s, also fostered close friendships, particularly through an emphasis on intense family love that extended into friendship. Middle-class, nineteenth-century families often discouraged daughters from playing with boys, although some preadolescent girls chose boys as companions. Nevertheless, most young girls, surrounded by models of intimate adult female friendship and exposed to periodical literature that romanticized such relationships, typically replicated them in their own lives, sometimes choosing cousins or sisters as their closest friends.

The rise of educational institutions for girls provided an important setting for the development of close friendships. From the middle of the eighteenth century, middle-class young women interacted with each other in boarding schools, female academies, and seminaries where they formed intimate, often lifelong relationships. Affectionate language and suggestions of physical intimacy pervade the correspondence of nineteenth-century school friends and highlight the central role of friendship in their lives. In the early twentieth century, the enrollment of growing numbers of girls in junior high and high schools provided additional opportunities for peer interaction and friendship.

Like their predecessors, adolescent girls in the first two decades of the twentieth century expressed affection for friends, shared confidences, and relied on one another for emotional support. However, this period marks the beginning of a transition to different expectations and priorities with less emphasis on female intimacy. A new emotional culture stressed emotional restraint, and an explicit cultural preference for heterosexual relations stigmatized same-sex intimacy. These influences discouraged emotional intensity and closeness between female friends. Preadolescent girls were encouraged to go to parties and dances and to talk to boys. By the 1950s, ten year olds were worrying about being popular with boys. This distinctly new heterosexual imperative also dominated high school relationships, as the content of female friendships increasingly focused on boys and dating, and young women's friendship choices often explicitly reflected their efforts to be perceived as members of the right group of girls to insure popularity with the opposite sex.

Although late-twentieth-century feminism re-emphasized the value and importance of female friendship, the impact of this ideology on young girls and adolescents is not clear. Several current studies describe a culture of aggression, backstabbing, and exclusive cliques among junior and senior high school girls, suggesting that friendship is fraught with problems for young women in contemporary society. While these descriptions of mean, calculating, and devious young women may be unrepresentative or exaggerated, they invite further study in the context of the history of children's friendships.

Boys and Friendship

Prior to the nineteenth century, boys spent more time in the company of adults than with their peers. As soon as they were old enough, they helped their fathers with farm work or served as apprentices or servants in other families. Certainly they had opportunities to play, but the structure of their lives offered limited occasions for independent activities out of the presence of adults, and hence for building friendships. This situation changed as urbanization and longer periods spent in school exposed them to larger groups of peers on a regular basis. In this context, boys developed a distinctive peer culture in which friendship played an important role.

Unlike those of girls, the friendships of young boys were unstable and superficial. Boys played outdoors, roaming more freely than their sisters were permitted to do. They chose their friends, often cousins and neighbors, pragmatically, more by availability than by any feelings of special affinity. Their relationships emphasized loyalty and good companionship rather than intimate confidences. Boys made friends easily, but conflict and rivalry were integral to their culture. Hence, their friendships shifted regularly, and fights between gangs from different neighborhoods, villages, or social classes were common. Frequently friends, as well as rivals, engaged in physical combat, such as boxing matches. Numerous informal clubs that met in attics and basements brought boys together for athletic and other activities. Because these groups typically excluded certain individuals from membership, they actually promoted division as well as unity and companionship among boys.

Nineteenth-century boyhood ended in the mid-or late teens when young men typically left home to find a job or pursue further education. In this period of transition, often referred to by historians as youth, friendships became stronger. Individuals relied on peers for reassurance as they entered a new stage of life. Formal, self-created youth organizations first appeared in the late eighteenth century as descendants of earlier apprentice societies, and they proliferated. These groupsliterary and debate clubs, religious societies, secret societies, fraternities, and lodgesprovided a setting in which young men often found one or more close friends. In contrast to boyhood relationships, these new friendships displayed qualities similar to those of adolescent young women's friendshipsintimacy, sharing of thoughts and emotions, expressions of affection, and physical closeness. However, while many nineteenth-century women maintained such friendships throughout their lives, intense male attachments ended as young men reached manhood and took on the responsibilities of marriage and careers.

As in the case of young women's relationships, the stigmatization of homosexuality in late-nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century society and the post-Victorian emphasis on emotional restraint discouraged intimacy in young men's friendships. Affectionate male relationships disappeared as a new pattern of interpersonal distance between young men emerged in response to the fear of being labeled homosexual. Despite social criticism of this pattern in the context of concerns about the personal isolation experienced by late-twentieth-century boys and young men, and some efforts toward male bonding among adults, homophobic social pressures continue to influence the nature of male friendship from childhood through adulthood.

See also: Boyhood; Emotional Life; Girlhood; Love.


Cahane, Emily, Jay Mechling, Brian Sutton-Smith, et al. 1993. "The Elusive Historical Child: Ways of Knowing the Child of History and Psychology." In Children in Time and Place: Developmental and Historical Insights, ed. Glen H. Elder Jr., John Modell, and Ross D. Parke. New York: Cambridge University Press.

MacLeod, Anne Scott. 2000. "American Girlhood in the Nineteenth Century." In Childhood in America, ed. Paula S. Fass and Mary Ann Mason. New York: New York University Press.

Rosenzweig, Linda W. 1999. Another Self: Middle-Class American Women and Their Friends in the Twentieth Century. New York: New York University Press.

Rotundo, Anthony E. 1989. "Romantic Friendship: Male Intimacy and Middle Class Youth in the Northern United States, 18001900." Journal of Social History 23: 126.

Rotundo, Anthony E. 1993. American Manhood: Transformations in Masculinity from the Revolution to the Modern Era. New York: Basic Books.

Simmons, Rachel. 2002. Odd Girl Out: The Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls. New York: Harcourt.

Smith-Rosenberg, Carroll. 1985. "The Female World of Love and Ritual: Relations Between Women in Nineteenth-Century America." In Disorderly Conduct: Visions of Gender in Victorian America, ed. Carroll Smith Rosenberg. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.

Thompson, Michael, and Grace O'Neill, with Lawrence J. Cohen. 2001. Best Friends, Worst Enemies: Understanding the Social World of Children. New York: Ballantine Books.

Wiseman, Rosalind. 2002. Queen Bees and Wannabes: Helping Your Daughter Survive Cliques, Gossip, Boyfriends, and Other Realities of Adolescence. New York: Crown.

Yacovone, Donald. 1998. "'Surpassing the Love of Women': Victorian Manhood and the Language of Fraternal Love." In A Shared Experience: Men, Women, and the History of Gender, ed. Laura McCall and Donald Yacovone. New York: New York University Press.

Linda W. Rosenzweig


views updated May 29 2018


Friendship and its Place in the Moral Debate

Friendship is a central theme in ancient ethics, most notably in Aristotelian ethics, with two of the ten books of Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics (Books VIII and IX) (1985) devoted to the subject. But modern moral philosophy (from the mid-eighteenth century to the later part of the twentieth century) largely overlooked the role of friendship in moral life, in part because of the dominance of the impartialist stance of utilitarian and Kantian moral theory. Those theories also influenced the study of Aristotelian ethics. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, this trend shifted, in part due to a confluence of causesrenewed interest in Aristotelian ethics for its own sake, the development of modern virtue ethics, and the rise of feminist ethical theory. A seminal article by John Cooper on Aristotelian friendship (1977) helped to make Aristotle's account accessible, and especially emphasized the role of friendship in a morally reflective life. Aristotle's account remains the locus classicus for understanding the nature of friendship and its place in the moral life; however, before turning to that account, some background is important for understanding its resuscitation in the contemporary moral debate.

The Neglect of Friendship in Modern Moral Philosophy

From a classical utilitarian view, in the broad tradition of Jeremy Bentham (17481832), an agent is obligated to do that which promotes maximally desired outcomes for the greatest number of people, irrespective of standing commitments to friends and family or other personal projects and pursuits. One is to view oneself as a causal lever, Bernard Williams (1963) charged, of optimal outcomes. Thus, if one can save one's spouse or the next inventor of a cure for AIDS, one may be obligated, on a strict utility theory, to save the latter over the former. Rule utilitarians try to counter the unwelcome result, arguing that a general rule or practice of taking care of kith and kin is an overall best way of promoting general welfare. But a strict act utilitarian (that is, one committed to assessing the overall good consequences produced by discrete acts) cannot consistently make this response.

From a Kantian view, drawn primarily from Immanuel Kant's early work The Groundwork from the Metaphysic of Morals (1785), motives of friendship may be acted upon in morally permissible ways when properly constrained by the impartial point of view of the Categorical Imperative. But even then, such motives, like those of sympathy or other inclinations, lack intrinsic moral worth of their own. So, to adapt a well-known example from Michael Stocker (1976) on a Kantian view, one acts in a morally worthy way when one visits a hospitalized friend not out of friendship, but out of duty. In later writings, Kant seems to soften his view, arguing that acting from friendship may be an important way of realizing the more general, obligatory end of beneficence. Still, Kant is ever wary that intimacy can undermine mutual respect; thus, friendship, is a constant teeter-totter between getting close and keeping at bay: "For we can regard love as attraction and respect as repulsion, and if the principle of love commands friends to come together, the principle of respect requires them to keep each other at a proper distance" (1976, p. 470).

The difficulty of fitting friendship squarely into modern moral theory led many to return to Aristotle's account. This renewal of interest coincides with a feminist push to take seriously the role of interpersonal relationships and caring in a moral point of view. In particular, the influential work by psychologist Carol Gilligan (1982) galvanized philosophers of various stripes to begin to look at friendship and attachment relations as important arenas of moral agency and moral development. Thus, in a sense, the renewed interest in friendship brought with it a rediscovery of the kind of moral psychology that is an integral part of ancient ethics.

Friendship in Aristotelian Ethics

The framing question of Aristotelian ethics, like that of most ancient ethics, is what constitutes flourishing or happiness (eudaimonia ) for human beings? Aristotle's answer is that happiness is a composite of virtuous activity and external goods; chief among those external goods is the relational good of friendship, or philia. Humans are by nature "social creatures," Aristotle says, and self-sufficiency is always relational. Even if it turned out that the kind of virtuous or excellent activity most fitting for humans was contemplative and not civic or practical, people would still contemplate best in the company of others (NE 1177a33).

According to Aristotle's definition, philia is a mutually acknowledged reciprocation of affection and good will on the basis of some ongoing specific interest, such as pleasure, utility, or virtue. Chosen friendship grounded in virtue or good character is the paradigmatic and most stable form of friendship. It is a friendship dedicated to the whole person and committed to the joint project of good living. The best sort of friends "live together" and "spend their days together," not as cattle grazing the same pasture, but "by sharing in argument and thought" (NE 1170b1112). Given the intensity of these ideal friendships, one can reasonably expect to cultivate only a few at a given time. There is much good sense in these views: People are attracted to others on the basis of common pursuits and affinities and show mutual practical concern and good will within the context of the friendship. Were the friendship to dissolve, so, too, would the degree and nature of practical concern for the other.

Aristotle has sometimes been criticized for viewing friendship as a kind of mutual admiration society, and this, in part, because of his remark that a friend is "another self" or a "second self" (NE 1170b7). But in the context of his larger discussion, his claim is that people can rely on the best sort of friends to critically see themselves. Friends, he insists, are essential for the process of self-knowledge and for sustaining activities with a kind of zest and zeal that would be hard to muster individually (NE 1170a46). The best kind of friendship, he insists, is a sphere for moral growth and learning throughout life. And it is so, he concedes, even if friendship, as a kind of external good, exposes the individual to risk of loss and vulnerability. Kant's later worry that intimacy might erode self-sufficiency or autonomy is not Aristotle's concern. People's lives would lack luster without friends and loved ones. One misunderstands the nature of human happiness if one arms against the losses that attachments bring.

Empathy and Friendship

However, there is an aspect of friendship that Aristotle never fully articulates, though it is central to a viable conception of friendship. And this is the notion of empathy, or better, mutual empathy. Part of the craving of friendship is to be in synchrony with another. People want their closest friends to track their hearts and minds. They want to know that another can feel their joy or anguish and share concerns and wishes in a way that is psychologically deeper than just formally sharing ends or activities. They want to know that without too much struggle, a friend can be "on the same page" and convey that fact in a way that makes it clear that they are understood.

"Empathy" is an early-twentieth-century psychology word, a Greco translation (from empatheia ) of the German Einfülhlung, to feel one's way into another. A century and a half earlier, the Scottish moral sentiment theorists David Hume and Adam Smith used the term sympathy to mean something similar. For Hume "sympathy" is a kind of vicarious arousal, a congruent feeling that allows access into others' minds. His model is mechanical: One is connected as if by a cord. A tug at one end causes a reverberation at the other. In this way, one "catches" another's feelings, as if by contagion. Adam Smith proposed a more cognitive account: Feeling another's pain or anguish through an act of imagination; to trade "places in fancy" (1968, p. 4). And this requires some analogical reasoning. As he puts it, one brings another's experiences "home" to one; brings the case back to one's own "breast" (1968, p. 4-5). More precisely, one conjures up in one's own mind, through associations and memories, what it would be like to stand in the other's shoes. The process, while cognitive, is not emotionally flat. One must feel something of what the other is feeling, "beat time" with the other, as Smith says (1968, p. 140, 146, 167). Moreover, to really understand the other's mind, it is not enough for imagination to transport oneself into the other's shoes. One may have to become the other in the other's shoes. As Smith puts it, one has to "become in some measure same person with him" (1968, p. 4).

Whether one thinks of empathy as congruent feeling or imaginative transport, one expects close friendship to have some degree of attunement of this sort. The demand is not for a friend to be a mind reader of one's most concealed thoughts; that would be both psychologically implausible and, moreover, an invasion of privacy and autonomy. The point is that one wants from another some sense of being in sync, of being understood in a way that truly makes a life shared. Granted, this can become narcissisticreminiscent of what an infant demands of a parent and what a parent offers an infant as part of the basic formation of the parent-child bond. Thus, shared eye gaze and reciprocal smiling are part of the early moments of learning mutuality. But a touch of this is what most people still wish for well into their adult years. The craving seems a reasonable part of close friendship.

See also Aristotle; Bentham, Jeremy; Hume, David; Kant, Immanuel; Love; Loyalty; Smith, Adam; Virtue Ethics; Williams, Bernard.


Aristotle. Nicomachean Ethics, translated by W. D. Ross, rev. J. O. Urmson. In The Complete Works of Aristotle: The Revised Oxford Translation, Vol. 2, Bks. VIII, IX, edited by Jonathan Barnes. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1985. From the same set by Oxford, also see Aristotle's Eudemian Ethics. Translated by J. Solomon. VII. 12; Magna Moralia. Translated by St. G. Stock, II.16; Rhetoric, translated by W. R. Roberts, II.4.

Badhwar, N. K., ed. Friendship: A Philosophical Reader. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1993.

Blum, Lawrence. Friendship, Altruism, and Morality. Boston: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1980.

Cicero, Marcus Tullius. De amicitia. Translated by W. A. Falconer. London: Heinemann, 1923.

Cooper, John M. "Aristotle on the Forms of Friendship." Review of Metaphysics 30 (1977): 618648. A revised and condensed version of both original articles appears as "Aristotle on Friendship" in Essays on Aristotle's Ethics, edited by A. O. Rorty. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1980.

Cooper, John M. "Friendship and the Good in Aristotle." Philosophical Review 86 (1977): 290315. Reprinted in Aristotle's Ethics: Critical Essays, edited by Nancy Sherman. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 1999.

Friedman, Marilyn. What are Friends For? Feminist Perspectives on Personal Relationships and Moral Theory. Ithaca: Cornell University Press: 1993.

Gilligan, Carol. In a Different Voice: Psychological Theory and Women's Development. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1982.

Hume, David. A Treatise of Human Nature, edited by L.A. Selby-Bigge. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1968 (1739).

Pakaluk, Michael. Other Selves: Philosophers on Friendship. Indianapolis, IN: Hackett, 1991.

Kant, Immanuel. Doctrine of Virtue. Part II of The Metaphysic of Morals. Translated by Mary J. Gregor. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1964 (1797).

Kant, Immanuel. Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals. Translated by H.J. Paton. New York: Harper and Row, 1964 (1785).

Sherman, Nancy. "Empathy and Imagination." In Philosophy of Emotions. Edited by Peter French and Howard Wettstein. Midwest Studies in Philosophy, Vol. 22. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1998, p. 82199.

Sherman, Nancy. "The Shared Life." Chap. 4 in Fabric of Character Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989, p. 118157; Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 47 (1987): 589613.

Sherman, Nancy. "The Shared Voyage." Chap. 5 in Making a Necessity of Virtue: Aristotle and Kant on Virtue. Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press, 1997, 187238.

Smart, J. J. C., and Bernard Williams. Utilitarianism, For and Against. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1973.

Smith, Adam. The Theory of Moral Sentiments. New York: Prome Thesus Books, 2000 (1759).

Stocker, Michael. "The Schizophrenia of Modern Ethical Theories." Journal of Philosophy 73 (1976): 453466.

Stocker, Michael. "Values and Purposes: The Limits of Teleology and the Ends of Friendship." Journal of Philosophy 78 (1981): 747765. Reprinted in Friendship: A Philosophical Reader, edited by N. K. Badhwar. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1993.

Telfer, E. "Friendship." Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society Supp. (19701971): 223241.

Nancy Sherman (2005)


views updated May 29 2018


Friends are people who feel affection for one another and enjoy spending time together. Reciprocity characterizes the nature of most friendships. Friends typically have mutual regard for one another, exhibit give-and-take in their behaviors, and benefit in comparable ways from their social interaction. The formation, nature, and effects of friendship all change as children develop. Despite these changes, having friends is important to children's overall development, and friendship has an impact on children's social, emotional, and cognitive growth.

Friend Selection

Who is friends with whom? For young children, proximity is a key factor in friend selection. Pre-schoolers tend to become friends with peers who are nearby physically as neighbors or playgroup members. Similarity in age is a major factor in friendship selection, and children tend to make friends with age-mates, particularly in Western societies, where schools are segregated by age. Another powerful factor in friend selection is gender: girls tend to be friends with girls, and boys tend to be friends with boys. The preference for same-sex friends emerges in preschool and continues through childhood. To a lesser degree, children tend to be friends with peers of the same race.

Beyond these basic factors, a key determinant of friendship is similarity of interests and behaviors. During the preschool and elementary years, children prefer peers who have a similar style of play. As children grow older, they tend to have friends who have similar temperaments, prosocial and antisocial behaviors, and levels of acceptance by peers. Adolescent friends tend to be similar in their interests and attitudes, and in the degree to which they have explored options in regard to issues such as dating, education, and future occupations.

Changes in the Nature of Friendship

The quality and nature of friendship vary as a function of age. Children as young as two can have friends, and even twelve- to eighteen-month-olds select and prefer some children to others. Toddlers laugh, smile at, touch, and engage in more positive interactions with some peers more than others. In the preschool years cooperation and coordination in children's interactions with friends increases, and friends are more likely to engage in shared pretend play. Friends also have higher rates of conflict than non-friends, likely due to the greater amount of time they spend together. However, friends are more likely than nonfriends to resolve conflicts in ways that result in equal outcomes rather than one child winning and another losing.

In the elementary school years, interactions among friends and nonfriends show the same patterns as in the preschool years but become more sharply defined. Closeness, loyalty, and equality become important features of friendship. Friends, as opposed to acquaintances (or nonfriends), talk more to each other, cooperate, and work together more effectively. In conflicts, friends are more likely to negotiate, compromise, take responsibility for the conflict, and give reasons for their arguments.

During adolescence peers become increasingly important. Friendships evolve into more intimate, supportive, communicative relationships. Many teens become intimate friends with members of the opposite sex, usually around the time that they start dating. Social competencies such as initiating interactions, self-disclosure, and provision of support increase as preadolescents mature into early adolescents, and are related to quality of friendship. In general, during early adolescence friends begin to value loyalty and intimacy more, becoming more trusting and self-disclosing. Tolerance of individuality between close friends also increases with age, and friends' emphasis on control and conformity decreases.

Changes in the Conception of Friendship

Children's conception of friendship changes with age. Young children define friendship primarily on the basis of interactions in the here-and-now and actual activities with their peers. At age seven or eight, friends tend to be viewed in terms of rewards and costs (e.g., certain friends are fun to be with or have interesting toys). When children are about ten years old, issues such as loyalty, making an active attempt to understand one another, and openly discussing personal thoughts and feelings become important components of friendship. Preadolescents and adolescents emphasize cooperative reciprocity (doing the same for one another), equality, trust, and mutual understanding between friends. It is unclear how much the age differences in children's conceptions of friends reflect real differences in their thinking about friendships or reflect differences in how well young children can express their ideas.

Influence of Parenting on Friendship

As children develop, they spend increasing amounts of time alone and with friends. Particularly during adolescence, there is a dramatic drop in the amount of time teens spend with their parents. Despite these changes in time allocation, research indicates that parents influence interactions with peers. Children and adolescents bring many qualities to their friendships that develop early in life as a result of socialization experiences in the family. Researchers find that children and adolescents from warm, supportive families are more socially competent and report more positive friendships. Further, there is evidence that parental responsiveness lessens the effects of negative peer influences. For example, an adolescent with a close friend who uses drugs is at risk primarily if the adolescent's parents are cold, detached, and disinclined to monitor and supervise the adolescent's activities. Research also suggests that adolescents without close friends are more influenced by families than peers, and that adolescents in less cohesive and less adaptive families are more influenced by peers than family members.

Influence of Friends on One Another

Friends can have negative effects on children if they engage in problematic behaviors. For example, aggressive children tend to have aggressive friends. Similarly, adolescents who smoke or abuse alcohol or drugs tend to have friends who do so. However, because children tend to chose friends who are similar to themselves in behaviors, attitudes, and identities, it is difficult to determine whether friends actually affect one another's behavior or if children simply seek out peers who think, act, and feel as they do. Some research suggests that friends do influence one another's behavior, at least to some degree or for some people. For example, some investigators have found that peer contact predicts problem behavior primarily among children who have a history of problem behavior.

Friends likely influence children and adolescents in positive as well as negative ways. Friends influence academic achievement and prosocial behaviors. Particularly during adolescence, individuals are influenced by friends because they admire their peers and respect the opinions of their friends, not typically because of coercive pressures. Teens are most influenced by peers in middle adolescence, compared to early and late adolescence.

Friendship and Healthy Development

As suggested by important developmental theorists like Jean Piaget, Lev Vygotsky, and Harry Stack Sullivan, friends provide emotional support, validation and confirmation of the legitimacy of one's own thoughts and feelings, and opportunities for the development of important social and cognitive skills. Children with friends are less likely to feel lonely, and friendships provide a context for the development of social skills and knowledge that children need to form positive relationships with other people.

In general, having friends is associated with positive developmental outcomes, such as social competence and adjustment. For example, young children's initial attitudes toward school are more positive if they begin school with a large number of prior friends as classmates. Exchanges with friends also promote cognitive development. This is because children are more likely to criticize each other's ideas and to elaborate and clarify their own thoughts with friends than nonfriends or adults. Children also benefit from talking and working together, and older friends often act as mentors for younger children. Friendships serve as a buffer against unpleasant experiences, like peer victimization and teasing from other children. Because friendships fill important needs for children, it might be expected that having friends enhances children's long-term social and emotional health. In fact, having a close, reciprocated best friend in elementary school has been linked to a variety of positive psychological and behavioral outcomes for children, not only during the school years but also years later in early adulthood. This is especially true if children's friendships are positive and do not have many negative features.

In summary, the nature of friendship changes as children grow, and friendship plays an important role in development. As children mature, friends rely on each other and increasingly provide a context for self-disclosure and intimacy. Adolescent friends, more than younger friends, use friendships as a context for self-exploration, problem solving, and a source of honest feedback. Friendship is important in healthy growth and development, and children with close friendships reap the benefits of these relationships well into adulthood.



Bukowski, William, Andrew Newcomb, and Willard Hartup, eds. The Company They Keep: Friendship in Childhood and Adolescence. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1996.

Piaget, Jean. The Moral Judgment of the Child. New York: Free Press, 1965.

Rubin, Kenneth, William Bukowski, and Jeffrey Parker. "Peer Interactions, Relationships, and Groups." In William Damon ed. Handbook of Child Psychology, Vol. 3: Social, Emotional, and Personality Development, 5th edition, edited by Nancy Eisenberg. New York: Wiley, 1998.

Savin-Williams, Ritch, and Thomas Berndt. "Friendship and Peer Relations." In Shirley Feldman and Glen Elliot eds., At the Threshold: The Developing Adolescent. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1990.

Sullivan, Harry. The Interpersonal Theory of Psychiatry. New York:Norton, 1953.

Vygotsky, Lev. Mind in Society: The Development of Higher Psychological Processes. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1978.

Youniss, James, and Jacqueline Smollar. Adolescent Relations with Mothers, Fathers, and Friends. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1985.

Amanda SheffieldMorris



views updated May 11 2018


From a psychoanalytic viewpoint, friendship is one of the bonds that arise from sexual impulses when their attainment of a directly sexual goal is inhibited. However, this is a process of inhibition rather than sublimation. This approach to a sexual satisfaction that is never consummated forms the basis for especially strong and enduring ties between people.

Both in adolescence and in adulthood, Freud had some intense and deep friendships, but he did not write on this subject at any great length. However, friendship, as he defined it, plays a key role between individuals to the extent that it appears as a metaphor for those relationships between two people that, unlike the state of romantic love, lead to a broader form of unity. In this sense, Freud connects it with these other ties that are based on the aim-inhibited sexual impulses: the tender relationship between parent and child, and conjugal love in which the sexual relationship has gradually fallen into second place. These two bonds form the basis for the broader unity that is constituted by the family, just as friendship is the foundation for the creation of social ties.

However, these different kinds of bond should not be confused, because the homosexual libido can develop into friendship whereas the conjugal bond is in essence heterosexual and the parent-child relationship involves an elaboration of the parent's narcissistic libido. These ties can even conflict: "a pair of lovers are sufficient to themselves, and do not even need the child they have in common to make them happy" (1930a [1929], p. 108).

At the theoretical level, Freud refined the concept of sublimation by distinguishing it from the inhibition of the aim of sexual satisfaction and, in this respect, friendship constitutes a good example. Using the examples of Plato and St. Paul (1921c), Freud emphasized that the libido corresponds to love understood in a wide sense, including, along with the state of romantic love, self-love, filial and parental love, friendship, and even the attachment to physical objects and abstract ideas. The sexual basis of these ties is attested to by the fact that they retain some of the primary sexual aims: "Even an affectionate devotee, even a friend or an admirer, desires the physical proximity and the sight of the person who is now loved only in the 'Pauline' sense" (pp. 138-139).

However, these aim-inhibited drives are not only capable of being combined with non-inhibited drives but can also be transformed back in the opposite direction to revert to the directly sexual form from which they have originated. Friendship, admiration, and even the religious bond therefore remain close to the sexual bond itself.

There is a particular kind of friendship that merits further considerationthe form that is shared by male homosexuals and leads to the formation of social ties. In relation to Daniel Paul Schreber, Freud wrote that homosexual tendencies "help to constitute the social instincts, thus contributing an erotic factor to friendship and comradeship, to esprit de corps and to the love of mankind in general. How large a contribution is in fact derived from erotic sources (with the sexual aim inhibited) could scarcely be guessed from the normal social relations of mankind" (1911c [1910], p. 61). He bases this on the hypothesis that the shared homosexual impulse is generally aim-inhibited and constitutes a source of unused libido that is therefore available for these various ties. Moreover, the degree of homosexual drive in an individual determines their particular capacity for forming such ties, provided that they continue to inhibit it from direct satisfaction.

This highly simplistic economic perspective, which ignores the entire tradition of homosexual friendship in antiquity and mentions only the form that is not aim-inhibited, is somewhat baffling. This is a long way removed from the depth of Freud's analysis of the resexualization of sublimated homosexual ties that leads via narcissism to paranoia (1911c [1910]). However, Freud continues to subscribe to this specific affinity between the homosexual bond and the constitution of the group through friendship and esprit de corps : "It seems certain that homosexual love is far more compatible with group ties, even when it takes the shape of uninhibited sexual tendencies" (1921c, p. 141).

While the "social sense," a "sublimated" (or, rather, inhibited) form of the male homosexual libido, may take the form of love of humanity, it can also be extended to a relatively large group. Solidarity is therefore the form of expression given to the recognition of what is identical to the self.

Sophie de Mijolla-Mellor

See also: Alter ego; Double (the); Eros; Homosexuality; Persecution; "Psycho-Analytic Notes on an Autobiographical Account of a Case of Paranoia (Dementia Paranoides)."


Freud, Sigmund. (1911c [1910]). Psycho-analytic notes on an autobiographical account of a case of paranoia (dementia paranoides). SE, 12: 1-82.

. (1921c). Group psychology and the analysis of the ego. SE, 18: 65-143.

Further Reading

Rangell, Leo. (1963). On friendship. Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 11, 3-54.

Rubin, Lowell B. (1986). On men and friendship. Psychoanalytic Review, 73, 165-181.


views updated May 29 2018

284. Friendship (See also Loyalty.)

  1. acacia traditional symbol of friendship. [Flower Symbolism: Flora Symbolica, 172]
  2. Achilles and Patroclus beloved friends and constant companions, especially during the Trojan War. [Gk. Myth.: Zimmerman, 194]
  3. Amos and Andy dim-witted Andy Brown and level-headed partner Amos Jones, owners of the Fresh Air Taxi Cab Company. [Radio and TV: The Amos and Andy Show in Terrace, I, 54]
  4. Amys and Amylion the Pylades and Orestes (q.v., below) of the feudal ages. [Medieval Lit.: LLEI, I: 269]
  5. Biddy and Pip friends for life. [Br. Lit.: Great Expectations ]
  6. Castor and Pollux twin brothers who lived and died together. [Gk. Myth.: Zimmerman, 52]
  7. Chingachgook and Natty Bumppo Chingachgook as Natty Bumppos constant sidekick and advisor. [Am. Lit.: The Path-finder, Magill I, 715717]
  8. Damon and Pythias each agreed to die to save the other. [Gk. Hist.: Espy, 48]
  9. Diomedes and Sthenelus Sthenelus was the companion and charioteer of Diomedes. [Gk. Myth.: Zimmerman, 248]
  10. Fannie and Edmund Bertram while others ignored Fannie, he comforted her. [Br. Lit.: Mansfield Park, Magill I, 562564]
  11. Fred and Ethel the Ricardos true-blue pals. [TV: I Love Lucy in Terrace, I, 383384]
  12. Friday and Robinson Crusoe Friday was Robinson Crusoes sole companion on desert island. [Br. Lit.: Robinson Crusoe ]
  13. ivy leaves symbolic of strong and lasting companionship. [Heraldry: Halberts, 31]
  14. Jane Frances de Chantal and Francis de Sales, Sts . two of most celebrated in Christian annals. [Christian Hagiog.: Attwater, 183]
  15. Jonathan and David swore compact of love and mutual protection. [O.T.: I Samuel 18:1-3; 20:17]
  16. Lightfoot, Martin and Hereward Herewards companion during various wanderings. [Br. Lit.: Hereward the Wake, Magill I, 367370]
  17. Nisus and Euryalus fought bravely together; Nisus dies rescuing Euryalus. [Rom. Hist.: Wheeler, 259; Rom. Lit.: Aeneid ]
  18. Peggotty, Clara, and David Copperfield lifelong friends. [Br. Lit.: David Copperfield ]
  19. Petronius and Nero Petronius as nobleman and intimate friend of Nero. [Polish Lit.: Quo Vadis, Magill I, 797799]
  20. Philadelphia nicknamed City of Brotherly Love. [Am. Hist.: NCE, 2127]
  21. Pylades and Orestes Pylades willing to sacrifice life for Orestes. [Gk. Lit.: Oresteia, Kitto, 6890]
  22. Standish, Miles and John Alden best friends, despite their love for Priscilla. [Am. Lit.: The Courtship of Miles Standish in Magill I, 165166]
  23. Theseus and Pirithoüs Pirithofis, King of Lapithae, was intimate friend of Theseus, Athenian hero. [Gk. Myth.: Zimmerman, 195]
  24. Three Musketeers, The three comrades known by motto, All for one, and one for all. [Fr. Lit.: The Three Musketeers ]
  25. Tiberge and the Chevalier Tiberge as ever-assisting shadow of the chevalier. [Fr. Lit.: Manon Lescaut ]
  26. Wilbur and Charlotte spider and pig as loyal companions. [Childrens Lit.: Charlottes Web ]

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