Philiology

There has often been a discussion (e.g. in Eve 2002 or Blatterer 2015) whether there is a scope or space for a ‘sociology of friendship’. This would arguably see the study of friendship as a subbranch within sociology. As I have written else I do think that the study of friendship as a phenomenon is a worthy undertaking, but not just constricted to the profession of sociologists. Over time philosophers, psychologists, classicists and anthropologists have all devoted years of research producing tomes of wisdom on the matter, and an interdisciplinary independent term is thus merited.

Given the greek word of philia for friendship, the term philiology offers itself almost naturally. It is distinct from philology, and moreover will immediately make natural sense to a philologist. By that I mean it is a native consistent term like psychology or biology, unlike sociology which is a heteroradical that somehow never got linguistically corrected or purified (ironically enough, much like the word heteroradical itself).

The godmother or trailblazer of friendship science was essentially Rosemary Blieszner, with Rachel Adams and Sarah Matthews following up. Under the labels of ‘close relationships’ (which mostly was focused on family relationships), various publications emerged from the 80ies, with the three books by Blieszner Adams, Adams Blieszner and Beverly Fehr (Friendship Processes, 1996) summarizing the state of knowledge in the 90ies.

In the 2000’s focus mostly shifted to academic articles. Here I would single out Oswald Clark Kelly 2004 with their friendship maintenance strategies as well as the research of Robin Dunbar and researchers around him. The book ‘Vital friends’ of Tom Rath and a group of data scientists at the Gallup group performing a quantitative analysis to identify types of friends likewise falls into this period.

Early 2010 the research program of Jeffrey Hall produced the papers ‘Sex Differences in Friendship Expectations’, ‘Friendship Standards – Dimensions of Ideal Expectations’ (and later in 2018 – ‘Hours to make a friend’) which together represent a further milestone in measuring key aspects of friendship research. Parts of these studies by now have been replicated by Apostolou 2020 and Bouwman 2019.

In 2017 Hojjat and Moyer published the ‘Psychology of Friendship’, which updated the volumes of Blieszner and Adams to give a complete overview of current date friendship research from the perspective of psychology. Likely in the coming years we will also see edited volumes that also more integrate sociological and psychological theory.

It should be noted that philiology or friendship research is not identical to loneliness research, that deals with the deficiency in meeting general social needs. Loneliness is not just absence of meaningful friendships, but also absence of family and general social connections as well. Loneliness research also ties into happiness and well-being research. But philiology is just concerned with the quality of friendship as an end in its own.

Currently I see the following key open questions to be answered within philiology aka friendship science.

  1. General Friendship
    • How to best estimate relative importance of traits? Budgeting ’build your friend’ question?
    • How to evaluate suitability of questions for representing certain traits?
    • What is the best way to end up with a validated standardized e.g. 30 or 50 question set to characterise the key aspects of a friendship?
  2. Needs and loneliness
    • Can the Max-Neef needs be validated within loneliness research?
    • To what degree are joy-leisure-participation loneliness and support-loneliness correlated? To what degree are they hurtful or harmful?
    • Is befriending the best way to mitigate participation loneliness or are there better ways at equal effort and cost?
  3. Roles
    • Do roles correspond to different needs, or are there specific dialects?
    • What is the distribution of role ‘availability’ in the population?
    • Is part of loneliness due to structural mismatch?
  4. Society
    • Are there specific structures that evolve in groups of three, four or five? Are there certain situations that are conducive to such structures building?
    • Experimental: Is it possible to imitate these mechanisms, e.g. in care homes?
    • How can we identify good bridging practices, where people pull lonely people into established circles and communities?
  5. Friendship in different cultures
    • How do the emphasis on traits change with different cultures, possibly also with political or religious backgrounds?
    • Does cultural impact friendship needs? Correspondingly, do people in different cultures experience loneliness differently?
  6. Ageing and the life course of friendship
    • What are the friendships that lasted into old age? Why?
    • Is there a life course of friendships, where e.g. personality factors dominate in the first part, activities in the second, and relationship traits matter in the long run?
    • To what degree do which factors (resources, availability of people, bad habits) contribute to loneliness in age?

The plan here is to start a blog or something similar to track new papers that address these papers.