Distant friends and intimate strangers

20th Jul 2017

Distant friends and intimate strangers: On the perils of friendship in a Malaysian apartment building

A new paper by Olivia Killias is now available online.  This paper is part of a forthcoming Special issue on urban friendship networks.


Grounded in ethnographic fieldwork in and around a Malaysian apartment building, this paper explores discourses on and practices of friendship among young Iranian residents. The paper argues that for Iranians in Malaysia, most of them students, forming close social ties always holds the risk not only of personal betrayal but also of political infiltration, and thus making friends is informed by suspicion, anxiety and ambivalence. In the context of both formal state surveillance and informal moral policing in the high-rise, Iranian students often choose to ‘keep their distance’ from other Iranians. By analysing quotidian mutual observation and questioning, mistrust, but also forms of sociality that develop in the dense, cosmopolitan urban contact zone of an apartment building, this paper teases out conflicted narratives about intimacy and distance, and argues that these must be understood in the context of the local, material urban landscape of the high-rise, the uncertainty of life in transit as well as the political context of Post-Revolution Iran.

You can access and download the full article here

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