Urban friendship…

Urban friendship…


Written by:

Pnina Werbner

First Published:

09 Nov 2017, 12:00 am

Urban friendship…

Commentary: Urban friendship: Towards an alternative anthropological genealogy

A new paper by Pnina Werbner is now available online

This commentary paper is part of a forthcoming Special issue entitled Urban Friendship Networks: Affective negotiations in the city


This commentary outlines an intellectual genealogy of urban friendship stretching from the 1950s to the present, which influenced my own work on friendship. It begins by tracing this developing theory grounded in a basic contrast between close-knit, segregated networks and loose-knit or widely ramifying networks. Such morphological features define gender roles, friendship cultures and peer-group loyalties. Against the view that urban friendship is restricted to the intimate, private domain, I argue that friendship mediates structures of class and urban cognitive mapping. It is also the basis for the formation of elites and of the interdomestic domain – the setting for tournaments of value among immigrants newcomers. I further propose that elective friendship in voluntary organisations such as Sufi orders cuts across kinship, place and national boundaries. A rather darker, more dialectical conception of urban individual subjectivity emerges from Georg Simmel’s theorisation of the modern capitalist metropolis as a place of ‘freedom’, but also of anonymity and alienation, and of a ‘reserved’, distrustful attitude. This Simmelian vision is articulated, I propose, in many of the articles in this special issue, concerned with the ambivalences of friendship and the nature of fleeting friendships.

You can access and read the full article here