In this study, I analyzed changes over time in networks consisting of closest friends in the context of the Turkish white-collar class. I also examined how life events affect these changes. I collected data using interviews (conducted 5 years apart) with 32 male and 37 female respondents. The data show that a significant amount of change in the friendship networks was associated with certain life events; geographical mobility was the most important of these. The data also suggest that there are some significant gendered differences in friendships that change as a result of social circumstances.
Keywords: friendship, social network, gender, life events, class.
Friendship plays a significant role in people's lives (Allan, 2008; Giddens, 1991). Social scientists have paid considerable attention to friendship and documented its various aspects (Allan, 1979, 1989; Ayata, 2002; Pahl, 2000; Yaniklar, 2001). However, as Wellman, Wong, Tindall, and Nazer (1997, p. 28) argued, changes in the set of people who form a friendship network have been largely ignored. Indeed, friendship is presented as a static phenomenon in the majority of studies, and, consequently, only a snapshot of the patterns of ties is on offer (Suitor, Wellman, & Morgan 1997). However, it can be expected that membership in friendship networks is continually in flux. As Bidart and Degenne (2005) put it:
[Friendships] have a history that shows how the relationship between context and behavior changes over time. Each friendship network is the result of a process of construction and recomposition that takes place over time. This process is responsible for the form of the friendship network as a result of the addition, disappearance, breaking, or formation of friendship ties. (p. 3)
When considering the dynamics of personal networks, some scholars have provided information about stability and instability in the friendship networks of a specific (e.g., widows) or a general population. For example, in a study using interview techniques Morgan, Neal, and Carder (1996) reported that instability in personal networks is an important phenomenon. In a different context, Wellman et al. (1997) analyzed changes in intimate ties in personal community networks. Their analysis was based on data obtained from interviews conducted a decade apart with 33 Torontonians. They found that there was a high turnover in these networks, with only 27% of intimate ties persisting and various life events having differential effects on turnover. Similarly, in another study, Pahl and Pevalin (2005) described the changes in friendship choices over time. They also pointed out the importance of studying the changing character of personal networks.
Friendship in the Turkish context has not attracted a great deal of attention from researchers. Instead of focusing on friendship patterns, many researchers have investigated the changing character of neighborhood or kinship relations in the context of urbanization (Demir, 1998; Vergin, 1985). These authors suggest that, in an urban setting, kinship and neighborhood relations are relatively strong, but they do not provide information about the changing character of friendship ties.
Although friendship (as one of the constituents of personal communities) is very much gendered, most researchers neglect me issue of gender when dealing with the nature of friendship. Sex segregation is evident in friendships, which is a manifestation of important gender-based mores. Gender differences in the nature of the instability in friendships may also be expected (see, e.g., Tampubolon, 2007). Moreover, changes in social circumstances that contribute to this instability may affect women and men differently. Therefore, I examined the extent and nature of instability in friendship in men and women using two snapshots of friendship.
I also examined whether or not the strength of friendship ties (understood here in terms of the ranking of friends as closest, second closest, or third closest) is related to the degree of change in friendship. …