Lina Lundström

Why is the performing of friendship among teenagers in school an interesting research topic?

- It is interesting because in my material, I saw that friendship was meaningful and important for the pupils. In my analyses, I could see that a big part of the practice of friendship was to include, exclude, draw limits, and relate to norms and ideals, but also to use the room and the things, memories, mutual experiences, and expectations. The making of friendship was affected by that which also exist outside the school such as norms, but also what exists inside the school. The fact that it became a verb was because I saw that it was a process, it was sometimes stable during a long time and sometimes it changed. 

What is friendship?

- The picture of true friendship is that it should be voluntary and self-selected. As the school is an organising room, you cannot say that it is completely self-selected in school; rather you get a selection of people that you can choose from. Hence, school organises a part of how friendship is organised. One thing that I thought was interesting was that many discussions about school, for example whether we should forbid or allow mobile phones, is from an adult perspective – are mobile phones good or bad? I thought it became clear, and that is why I have the cover picture I have for my dissertation, a way to manifest friendship is to share the earphones attached to the mobile phone. So if an adult is to set up a rule that says that pupils cannot use mobile phones, then those adults need to know that it is more than about talking to somebody on the phone or listening to music, it is also about how to make friendship. I try to highlight how pupils interpret and experience their everyday life by, among other things, showing how they use the things that are available during the school day.

In what way can your research make a difference?

- With the dissertation, I want to give a language to those who operate in the school and hope that it can facilitate for them to create a good environment for learning. I want to contribute with a language that makes it possible to talk about what matters when friendship is made, why there is such a lack of association between different group of friends, why some get in trouble and become vulnerable and why others get high status. I wish that you could and had time as a teacher to meta-talk about relations, power structures, how we are affected by each other when we interact and how pupils, teachers, and the school organisation often build social structures that can enable and limit friendshipping in school.  

Is there anything else that you make visible in your research?

- When the social structures that are formed in a class are reproduced often and for a long time, they can feel natural for pupils, and for adults in the school. That is, when pupils in a class long enough and often draw limits for who can be friends with whom and who is left outside, these limits start to feel natural. This creates the risk that it feels legitimate to exclude certain pupils.

What I saw when I analysed the material was that the pupils had formed a friendship culture in the class that prescribed that friends should always be on the same level in a perceived popularity hierarchy. The friendship culture was visible, among other times, when the pupils did not act according to this culture. During my time on the field, there was a pupil described as popular who became friends with someone who had been excluded for a long time. The other pupils described this as shocking, the new way of making friendship made the premises in the pupils’ friendship culture visible. This can be an example of what I mean with us needing a language for friendshipping in school. Which friendship culture exists in the groups and classes that a teacher meets and what is it that enables friendship in that particular space and time? And based on this culture – are there some pupils who have a bigger opportunity to become a friend and have friends?

Download from DiVA: Performing friendship : A cultural sociological analysis of social relations among upper secondary school students by Lina Lundström.