Friendship and Kinshiop

Prof. Dr. Fritz Trillmich, Universität Bielefeld, Lehrstuhl für Verhaltensforschung
Prof. Dr. Frank Rexroth, Universität Göttingen, Seminar für Mittlere und Neuere Geschichte
Prof. Dr. Rudolf Stichweh, Universität Luzern, soziologisches Seminar
Prof. Dr. Günther Schlee, Max-Planck-Institut für ethnologische Forschung
Priv.-Doz. Dr. Peter Schuster, Universität Bielefeld/Universität des Saarlandes, Lehrstuhl für Geschichte des Spätmittelalters

This interdisciplinary research project brought together experts in the humanities, social sciences and biology. It owed much to the observation that friendship has become an increasingly fashionable topic in the mass media and popular advisory literature. One assumption underlying these writings is that friendship provides a more adequate form of interpersonal relationship for modern society than kinship. However, this assertion is based on a rather idealistic view of friendship which originated in the 18th century. Furthermore, it imputes a societal decline of the importance of kinship during the 20th century and thus draws on assertions that often go hand in hand with an overestimation of the significance of kinship relations in pre-modern societies. Against the background of these ongoing discussions, the research project explored the structure and relevance of both kinship and friendship from a sociological, historical, social anthropological and biological perspective.

Central to our interdisciplinary project was the conceptualisation of basic features of friendship and kinship and the shared understanding that the dichotomies of achievement versus ascription and terminability versus permanence can be regarded as the hallmarks of the difference between the two types of relationships. Equally important was the examination of the concrete mechanisms involved in the constitution of friendship and kinship and the question of the interactions between these systems of relationships. The contextually bounded character of the shape of the relation between friendship and kinship was especially analysed in the individual projects. Using a comparative approach, we accounted for a great variability in patterns of relationships and demonstrated a correlation between degrees of sharpness of the delineation between friendship and kinship and societal relevance of the respective type of relationship.