Boundaries of friendship and beyond: Analysing the notions of love within friendships
In deciding our research project, we were to choose between two main themes: “love” or “grief”. In our first group meeting in class, we decided that we would choose the broad theme of love for a several reasons. It is generally a more positive subject than grief, and so, was simply preferred by the group; it is something almost everyone can personally relate to; and there are many different types of love and so we could approach the project in various ways. For these main reasons, we agreed that love would be our favoured theme.
The next course of action was choosing our specific research title. From the suggestions given, there were many different angles we could take. One of these suggestions was “love between friends”. We felt this was a strong idea because it is outside the topic of romantic love, and we were also intrigued to discover more about it ourselves. At first, some within the group, including myself, were concerned that we may struggle to find a unique idea that no one else in the class had chosen, but this was fortunately not the case.
In our next meeting we decided on the main research questions for the topic and the title itself. When we brainstormed as a group we had several ideas, below are the ones we felt were most feasible and most interesting to investigate:
- Boundaries between acquaintance and friend
- Boundaries within friendship
- Boundaries beyond friendship
- Maintenance of friendship
- The “Friendzone”
Once we came up with these, our main research title fell into place. As a result we produced the title: Boundaries of friendship and beyond: Analysing the notions of love within friendships.
Overall, as a group I feel we worked well together. In class we were productive in thinking quickly and efficiently to brainstorm and develop ideas. Also, fortunately, everyone agreed on the topics chosen and there were no disputes over what to investigate. The greatest struggle has been meeting up outside of class. This is simply because everyone’s schedule is different and finding a suitable time for everyone has proven difficult. That said I believe we worked productively together in finding ideas, deciding on methodology, assigning roles and dividing work equally.
The responsibility has definitely been shared as our group leader has not been present at most meetings, and is not often in class. Personally, my best contributions were in the ideas stage of the project, as I suggested the general topic of friendship. On top of this I helped to come up with specific research questions such as investigating the aspect of maintenance in friendship, and the “friendzone”. This being said, all creative input has been encouraged by the rest of the group and has led to us working effectively together.
Methods and Ethics
In a group meeting we set out to decide the methodology, and specifically the interviewing method. The main struggle was choosing between structured and unstructured. At this point the group was split, as both had their benefits. With the structured interview, we could ensure that specific questions were answered clearly in all the interviews, and we thought this would be helpful in seeing trends within the results. However, they could be too restrictive to the point that they may not be reliable. In unstructured interviews, the participants would have more freedom to express exactly how they feel without fear of going “off-topic”, even if doing so was the best way to answer.
In the end, we felt an unstructured approach would allow for more detailed answers and provide a fuller picture of what the interviewee wishes to say. Also, a more conversational interview could reveal interesting points that may not relate to the specific questions, but are still relevant and stimulating. We too agreed that this setting would be more comfortable for interviewees, which is important for ethical reasons. We were especially confident that this was the right method once we referred to research. As Whitehead describes, in referring to Bernard’s explanation of unstructured interviews; they are ‘based on a clear plan that the ethnographer constantly keeps in mind… the ethnographer maintains a minimum of control over people’s responses, with the purpose of getting people to “open up and let them express themselves in their own terms, and at their own pace”’ (2005:15). This emphasises many features of what we wanted our research to be based on.
Before starting into the interview itself, it was important to consider any potential ethical issues that could arise throughout. For this, we referred to the ethics guidelines provided by the ASA (Association of Social Anthropologists). The most relevant section in this for us was entitled “Relations with and responsibilities towards research participants” (p.1). For the context of our interviews, certain areas within this section stood out as especially important. These specific areas were protecting research participants and honouring trust; avoiding undue intrusion; rights to confidentiality and anonymity; and finally, negotiating informed consent.
Protecting research participants and honouring trust involved being sensitive to the wellbeing of the interviewee through ensuring they were comfortable with the topic and questions asked, and reminding them that they can end the interview at any point. Ensuring to avoid undue intrusion involved asking questions that were not so personal that informants were uncomfortable in sharing, and also that all the questions asked were relevant to the research.