Symbolic Life Pledges and Intimate Communication. Towards a Generalized Sociology of Friendship
Friendship is an uncommonly diverse and fluid form of social interaction. The practices and ideals of friendship vary greatly in intercultural and historical comparison—so much so, in fact, that one might see in them entirely different phenomena, linked only by vague similarities in form. The idea of the life-token, I suggest, offers a way to bridge these apparent differences. The concept, which has received scant attention in sociology despite its relative prominence in Marcel Mauss’s The Gift, refers to a symbolic artefact that stands for the life of a person and remains inseparably tied to it. Historical forms of friendship such as the blood brotherhood can be decoded as a ritual exchange of symbolic life-tokens. Viewed at a sufficiently general level, this exchange describes the common denominator underlying all forms of friendship. One possible candidate for a modern-day life-token is the intimate secret.
Janosch Schobin is a sociologist at the University of Kassel, where he leads a group of doctoral candidates studying the role of digital games in encouraging low-carbon and zero-carbon behaviors as part of the German Ministry of Education and Research’s project DeCarbFriends – Dekarbonisierung – Freundschaftsnetzwerke – Gamification. He earned his PhD from the University of Kassel in 2001 with a dissertation on friendship and care, which appeared in 2013 under the title Freundschaft und Fürsorge: Bericht über eine Sozialform im Wandel with Hamburger Edition. He has held positions as a research assistant at the Hamburg Institute for Social Research and as a freelance software developer. His work focuses on the sociology of friendship, social network theory, social isolation, family, death, work and gaming. He has published numerous essays on the sociology of friendship and is the coauthor of Freundschaft heute: Eine Einführung in die Freundschaftssoziologie (2016).