Friendship and public space: a private form of social capital
Sociology University of Manchester Manchester, United Kingdom
Topic: New and Old Individualisms
Individualism has been variously interpreted by social science in contemporary times. One of its major interpretations, related to the personal private sphere, conceptualises it as a process of atomization of society, implying the loosening of values and the fragmentation of social structure. This has leaded some scholars to claim against the loss of community, which can be found, for example, in the weakening of social capital.
On the other hand, some scholars have highlighted the changing nature of community, which cannot be intended anymore in traditional terms (a local social structure characterized by shared identity, solidarity, reciprocity, trust and collective memory), but it is today formed by social networks, where people chose whom they do relate to.
This communication explores the friendship networks of single youth in Milan, using data collected in 2005 with both egonetworks and in-depth, non structured interviews. Drawing on results, I will show where friendship ties are commonly formed and what kind of support they provide to single people; moreover, I will focus on the main outputs of friendship sociability in terms of social capital.
Conclusions will show how friendship is used by single people to access the public space, which is today dominated by consumerism individualism and does not promote urban socialization (like public spaces in the past). This individualised form of sociability has implication on the outcome of friendship, which can be considered as a private form of social capital, whose norms and benefits are not applied to relationships outside the friendship network but do shape new localised and individualised forms of communities.