This is a qualitative study which explores themes in a present day adolescent same-sex friendship. The study elicits data from video of a 15-minute interview. The interview was semi-structured and on the subject of ‘friendship’ and allowed the participant to talk at length on the topic. The interviewer is referred to as Tanya and she is a psychology researcher. The interviewee is an adolescent girl and referred to as Shazia. The questions in the semi-structured interview allowed the interviewee to talk on the topic at length. The analysis consisted of initial coding and a trial and error theming process. Four main themes were identified: Companionship, Support, Commonality and Comfort. Other themes were discarded for not having enough weight. Once the theming was complete, research on previous research begun. This order of research was necessary due to the inductive quality of the approach. The research on previous research was conducted and most of it was congruent with what this study had found. The only theme that was not as widely recognised but did play a major role in this study was Comfort. The words comfort and comfortable are mentioned 17 times. The researcher’s reflexivity leads to the fact that this is not an earth shattering discovery- but that it was a vital them in the formation of a possible life-long friendship. It is mentioned that further longitudinal studies would lead to knowing whether these themes remain constant or not. It would also be interesting to see whether Shazia’s marital ‘friendship’ encompasses these same themes.
This is a qualitative study and is aimed at recognising friendship themes in a present day adolescent same-sex friendship. As friendship is one of the core types of relationships, qualitative studies seek to enhance our understanding of this relationship. The first problem is that there is a lack of universally agreed upon criteria for what makes someone a ‘friend’ (Bell and Coleman, 1999). Aristotle attempted to clear the confusion by distinguishing between three types of friendship: genuine friendship, friendship based on usefulness and friendship based on pleasure. He claimed that when the utility and pleasure dissipated, the latter two friendships would dissolve. Only the genuine friendship would remain. According to Cicero (106-43 BC), genuine friendship can have material benefits, but only if these are not the motivation for the friendship.
The current hypothesis on adolescent friendship is that these relations are uniquely associated with social and emotional growth. Undeniably, friendships influence children’s adaptation after life changing situations, adjustments in school and the acquirement of life skills (Bukowski, Newcomb, Hartu, 1996). In the past, empirical research has managed to ascertain whether friendship exists amongst children and adolescents. Yet, existence or the lack thereof, is not enough. The quality of the friendship needs addressing. It is also widely accepted that children’s ideas about friendship change with age.
In a pioneering qualitative study, thematic analysis of naturalistic conversations between children was applied (Gottman and Mettetal, 1986; Parker and Gottman, 1990). They found that friendship evolves through three main phases according to the concerns of the children at that particular stage.
In early childhood, the main concern was maximising excitement and entertainment through coordinated play. During middle childhood, it seems children are concerned more with inclusion of peers and avoidance of rejection. The early adolescent phase is concerned with self-exploration through self-disclosure. This leads to supportive and creative problem solving among friends. Essentially, these findings are very similar to Sullivan’s theory of emerging social needs. According to Sullivan (1953), there is a progression of social needs in the form of co-participation in play, peer acceptance and intimate exchange.
During childhood, adolescence and adulthood the same theme seems to emerge again and again. The children refer to it as ‘playing together’, the adolescents call it ‘hanging out’ and adults simply claim to ‘do things together’ (Savin-Williams and Berndt, 1990). This provides evidence for the theory that perhaps the single most important need that friendship fulfils, is the need for enjoyable companionship. Interestingly, not a lot of research has been focused on this invariable factor. Developmental psychologist tend to focus more on the aspects of friendship which change- instead of the factor which remains constant. According to De Vries (1997, cited in Weiten, Lloyd, Dunn and Hammer, 2009) research has identified three common themes in friendship. The first being the emotional aspect (self-disclosure, affection and support). The second is the communal nature (supporting and participating in communal activities) and the third entails compatibility. Some studies have found that the most important aspect of friendship, is emotional support (Collins and Madsen, 2006)
The participant used in this study was an adolescent girl referred to as Shazia. The interview was conducted in 2008 at Liverpool John Moores University. The purpose of the ‘study’ was to make the information available as an online teaching resource. The interview was conducted Tanya Corker, a research assistant. Tanya was not known to the participant. Shazia was not given the choice of having a male or female interviewer. She was also not matched for ethnicity. Tanya is Caucasian and Shazia is a British Asian. The data was derived from a semi-structured interview on the subject of ‘friendship’ and allowed the participant to talk at length on the topic.
The analysis was thematic (Braun and Clarke, 2006) and followed an inductive approach. The questions in the semi-structured interview were unrestrictive and oriented towards an unspecified research question. The 15-minute video was watched three times. The first two viewings were one month apart. Although I thought this would allow for the information to be absorbed and processed, it was soon forgotten. The third viewing was done within 3 days of the second, and this allowed for greater retention. The transcript was read three times before coding started. The first “codes” were later reassessed as it was made clear by a lecturer that I had skipped from “coding” to “theming” without giving the coding process enough weight. I obtained another copy of the interview transcript and started the coding again. My findings are based on both attempts. A bottom-up approach was used and the themes emerged from the coding of the data.
After the coding process, a table was created were the initial themes were produced. These included motivation, time, pros and cons to friendship, companionship, support, similarities, comfort. After reviewing the themes, it was found that some of the themes had little or no weight as an independent theme. Through trial and error, the following graph indicated that all the codes could be part of the following themes: Companionship, Support, Commonalities and Comfort.
Table 1: An illustration depicting how the Themes relate to the Codes (created in CorelDraw).
Shazia repeatedly mentions time spent with her friend (Eva) and her other friends at university. She also refers to Eva as being her “long longest friend” (line 10). She goes on to describe the types of things they do together:
INT: Ehm so what kind of things do you do with your friend? What, what kinda things would you do with her?
SHAZ: Well we’ve tried making up diets, because for the past three years we’ve been saying that we’re gonna diet and then we’re gonna go on holiday and it’s gonna be really good, but that’s just not happened, and then we used to go swimming, but then we’d just end up going and getting like a kebab or something and then that would just wipe out any good that we do [laughs], and we just watch films and go out, normally just go for a drive or something and just do that really, just any little thing, we just like sit there for hours just talking and doing nothing, and yeah, once we just spent a whole hour just trying on different hats [laughs].Yeah bit sad but that’s what we do, yeah.
This clearly indicates a sense of companionship- of doing things together. She also mentions how they used to do homework together. With her other friends from university, she mentions how she spent Fresher’s Week with her new friends, how they would all watch TV together and went out almost every day. It seems important for Shazia to spend time with her friends. It also seems that with her really close friends, she is not really strict on what that time has to entail – the company alone seems enough.
Shazia mentions how Eva helped her with her German and how they both took each other ‘under their wing’:
INT: [Laughs]. So you were more of, you were more of, it’s because you were the older one you sort of, did you, do you feel like you took her under your wing a little bit?
SHAZ: For some things, but a lot of it, she matured faster than me for some things, so then like she took me under her wing as well so it’s, it’s a mutual thing I think, yeah.
Shazia also mentions how because she is a little bit older than Eva, she experienced things earlier and could then provide help and support for Eva when it was her turn to experience them. Shazia also supports Eva in making new friends. She encourages her and compliments the fact that Eva is “really good at making friends” (line 140). When Shazia was asked about how Eva responded to Shazia making other friends her reply was that Eva “wasn’t, to be honest, she’s not really bothered…” (line 149). She goes on to say how she tends to be the one who worries more about the fact that they might grow apart and Eva’s reply is, “…we’re not gonna grow apart” (line 152). And that statement seems enough to have quelled Shazia’s fears.
This seems to be one of the strongest themes. Shazia became friends with Eva because they both spoke English. They also lived in the same town and were of a similar age, had similar schoolwork and similar hobbies and interests. They also know the same people so catching up when they have been apart, is easy to do. With her friends form university, Shazia mentions that there were 12 friends who then dwindled to five and it seems there common annoyance with boys had made them a stronger unit. It is interesting how the female interviewer also responds in a positive way to this commonality:
SHAZIA:…everyone on our floor, we all end up like for the first two weeks we all went out together to all of the Fresher’s things, every, the whole floor, like twelve of us, we all just went out together, so we all became quite close in that week, the first two weeks, and then, and then after that it all started, like all the girls we all stayed close, like we’ve got five of us, so then we’d all be just like getting a bit annoyed with the boys cause they were pretty nasty [laughs].
INT: They’re boys [laughs]
In the final part of the interview, the subject of culture is broached. Although it only comes up in the last part of the interview, it still seems very important to Shazia. Shazia mentions how a lot of them used to do things together but that she bonded more with the other Asian students. She uses the phrase “…you just tend to gel a bit more because there’s like a cultural understanding…” (lines 200-201). She refers to it again only three lines later when she says,
“…but I think like with Asians, well just anyone like people of your own race and stuff you know like cultures that are similar to yours they seem to understand you more [INT: yeah], they’re likely to understand more and I think that’s why I gelled more with those two.”
The word “comfort” appears in the interview 10 times, whilst “comfortable” is there another five times. Although, there are various examples in the interview, no quote makes it clearer than this one:
INT: Yeah, so to you that’s an important sign of, of friendships that ability to feel comfortable?
SHAZ: Yeah, definitely, yeah.
Throughout the interview Shazia often interjects her speech with the words “like” (358 times) and “ehm” (70 times). People often use these words when they are not quite sure of what they are saying or when they are not quite sure of how to say something. In the above quote, there is no hesitation and she even confirms it with a double “yeah”. It is clear that for Shazia, comfort is perhaps the biggest theme- especially in her relationship with Eva.
Previous research has shown the central themes of friendship as being self-disclosure, support, commonality and companionship. In this study, it has been shown how the latter three themes are also central to Shazia’s idea of friendship. Although self-disclosure does not appear as a theme in this particular piece, the issue of security will allow self-disclosure to manifest. Shazia does mention that sometimes she is worried about growing apart from her friend. This is an example of self-disclosure. Her friend then provides emotional support by convincing Shazia not to worry. Shazia also discloses to the interviewer her views on culture. This is a sensitive topic for Shazia and it is only spoken about at the end. Perhaps because a rapport has been created between interviewer and interviewee.
On the theme of companionship, Shazia elaborates on the types of things she does with her friends. Sometimes the time together is structured, and sometimes they can just sit together in silence. This provides evidence to the Savin-Williams and Berndt claim that throughout the life stages, the requirement for companionship remains constant. In Shazia’s early friendship with Eva, the sole theme was commonality. They spoke the same language, were of a similar age and lived in the same town. This then allowed the friendship to evolve to a point where companionship was possible. The companionship then became comfortable. This was so important in Shazia’s friendship with Eva that she even looks for it in other relationships. When she does not find it, she does not consider that person a close friend. The companionship then allowed for support. Shazia en Eva provided each other with emotional support but they also helped each other with school work. This ties in with Cicero’s claim that genuine friendship does not expect material benefits but sometimes these benefits occur naturally.
In Shazia’s different friendships one can clearly see that Aristotle was accurate in his statement of genuine friendship, usefulness friendship and pleasure friendship. Eva is Shazia’s genuine friend. The students whom Shazia met at the beginning of Fresher’s Week were useful friends. During those first few days, when they were all entering unchartered territory, they provided each other with a level of comfort and security. The friendships of pleasure were the relationship she had with the students with whom Shazia went out. She herself acknowledges that they were “going wild and doing absolutely everything”. Her lasting friendships have been with Eva and the students on her course who were of the same cultural background as herself- not the useful or pleasurable friends.
When Shazia met Eva, Eva was six years old. This is the middle childhood phase. According to Sullivan one can expect indications of concerns for peer inclusion and avoidance of rejection. One can imagine that these two girls had so many commonalities, that they probably felt no need to worry about their peers. They had found (at a very young age) a unique friendship which suitably to both of them it seems, afforded them the required inclusion, whilst at the same time eliminated the fear of rejection. In the early adolescent phase, self-exploration and self-disclosure becomes apparent. These two girls were not scared to voice their fears about their relationship. They were supportive of themselves and each other and this put them in good stead to progress to university where they continued to support one another. Perhaps in different ways now.
What is now apparent, it that the central themes to Shazia’s friendships have been identified and that they correlate very closely with those of previous research. Perhaps it is necessary to re-interview Shazia every couple of years in order to be able to reassess these themes. Perhaps as she marries and has children, one might see changes. It would also be interesting to see whether Shazia values the same things in her relationship with her life partner as she has in her friends.
I found it quite hard to code. I suspect it might be because at the beginning, I did not find this to be an interesting topic. My lecturer had told me that I had jumped from coding to theming and I was a little perplexed. I did not understand how themes identified from one semi-structured interview could give any weight to a study on friendship. This goes against what we had been taught in qualitative research. This was more like a case study, no? How could they teach us that when using semi-structured interviews it is recommended to use at least six interviews, yet we only get to use one?! I felt that it was a wasteful exercise that would not be able to help me to create a respectable report.
At the beginning of the study, people warned of trying to find your own themes of friendship in Shazia’s data. I was warned and yet when I watched the video and read the script, I was surprised to find that I could approach both forms of media with an open mind. I also felt I was more open-minded because she was from another ethnic group. Had she been Caucasian, I might have made assumptions about how she formed friendships. I was surprised that during the first part of the interview, she made statements that were very similar to statements I could have made. Towards the end, when she spoke about the racial aspects, I could not relate, because I had never been in a strict religious culture.
I also found it necessary to do my theming before I did research on past research. I did not want any prior research to influence my themes as I wanted to follow an inductive approach. I was pleasantly surprised when I discovered that my themes were congruent with themes other researchers had found. This might not be a very interesting qualitative study the themes that were discovered were a vital part of the formation of a possible life-long friendship
I found it interesting that during this entire project, I have developed a stronger bond with Shazia. The first time I viewed the video I felt bored and under stimulated and I expected more. I felt that this attitude had influenced my initial work. Once I became more familiar with the words and the themes, I started to enjoy it more. It was all coming together and I felt glad for the experience. I did wonder whether the fact that Shazia had not been ethnically matched, might have had an effect on her answers. I would be interested in researching studies where matching has occurred and what the results were.