Sunday, July 3, 2022


 Beethoven started going deaf in his late 20s.  Already famous by age 25 for his piano sonatas, at 31 he was traumatized by losing his hearing. But he kept on composing: the Moonlight Sonata during the onset of deafness; the dramatic Waldstein Sonata at 32; piano sonatas kept on coming until he was 50. In his deaf period came the revolutionary sounds of his 3rd through 8th symphonies, piano and violin concertos (age 32-40). After 44 he became less productive, with intermittent flashes (Missa Solemnis, Diabelli variations, 9th symphony) composed at 47-53, dying at 56. His last string quartets were composed entirely in his head, left unperformed in his lifetime.


Handel went blind in one eye at age 66; laboriously finished the oratorio he was working on; went completely blind at 68. He never produced another significant work. But he kept on playing organ concertos, "performing from memory, or extemporizing while the players waited for their cue" almost to the day he died, aged 74.


Johann Sebastian Bach fell ill in his 64th year; next year his vision was nearly gone; he died at 65 "after two unsuccessful operations for a cataract."  At 62 he was still producing great works; at 64 he finished assembling the pieces of his B Minor Mass (recycling his older works being his modus operandi). At death he left unfinished his monument of musical puzzles, The Art of the Fugue, on which he had been working since 55.


Can we conclude, it is more important for a composer to see than hear?


Beethoven could hear neither music nor conversation; but he spoke to others, reading their words on scribbled notes. Companions described him as humming and howling to himself while walking in the countryside, returning to his piano to work out the fingering-- it was his "Appassionata Sonata". Meeting Carl Maria von Weber, whose revolutionary opera Der Freischutz created a stir, Beethoven embraced him enthusiastically with the words "So you're the very devil of a fellow I've been hearing about!"  He could hear the music in his head by reading a score-- like all classical composers, who "auditioned" each other's music from their scores. How else would you know whether to have an orchestra perform it? Hence the importance of seeing: reading a score, envisioning how to write down the music in one's head. It would be near fatal for a composer to be blind.


There are famous blind creators, chiefly in literature.


Milton went blind at age 44; already a notable poet and political controversialist, he went on to compose Paradise Lost (written age 50-55) and Paradise Regained (published at 66, the year of his death).


William H. Prescott was nearly blinded in a college roughhouse; went on to travel seeking original texts from the Spanish conquests of America, listening and writing with the help of amanuenses; publishing The History of the Conquest of Mexico (1843) and Conquest of Peru (1847) when he was 47-51 years old. Without eyesight, he developed a phenomenal memory, and a prose style voluminous and eloquent.


Gibbon wasn't blind, but his method of composing was to form in his head his sonorous rhythmic sentences (his stately "periods" as his contemporaries would say): "cast a long paragraph in a single mould, to try it by my ear, to deposit it in my memory, but to suspend the action of the pen 'til I had given the last polish to my work." [Saunders p.15]  In this way he composed the most literary of all histories, the six volumes of Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (2 million words, written during age 35-50).  This comes to some 300 words per day, a do-able process.


Milton and Prescott are similarly stately writers of vivid material, readable even for the sound alone. They are writers whose prose or verse had "music", as the 17th century would put it.  Like Beethoven, they could compose in their head. (And by the way, Milton's father was a composer.)


Among blind poets there is famously Homer, although is it thought that "Homer" was the brand-name of a guild of blind reciters; the formulaic epithets for heroic characters and wine-dark seas were memory-hooks for oral performance handed down over the decades.


There is a Japanese equivalent, blind reciters of The Tale of the Heike, the epic samurai history of the twelfth-century wars between the Heike and Genji clans. In the fourteenth century until it was written down in the fifteenth, Heike Monogatari was recited by blind monks wearing Buddhist robes, accompanying themselves on the biwa or lute, called "biwa hoshi"  or "biwa monks".  Its enormous length (the English translation is 700 pages) was held in memory by poetic/musical forms, in this case the thirty-one syllable waka, ancestral to haiku and other forms, an early hybrid between poetry and prose. [Tyler xxiv]


There are no famous blind painters, to my knowledge; whether painters were deaf no one seems to have regarded as a fact worth noticing. Are there great deaf poets?  It has not been bruited about.


My point is not the pathos of difficult lives, nor the triumph of overcoming it. Deaf or blind creators in different fields provide a natural experiment, evidence for what kind of the skill -- including social skill-- is the specific ingredient of creativity in music, and what are specific to other fields.


Music without texts (folk music and the like) is hand-to-ear coordination. With instrument ensembles, it becomes also hand-to-eye coordination.


Playing an instrument is a bodily skill; the whole body may go into the rhythm; the movements of fingers on strings and keys; of arms scraping bows over strings or beating drums; of fingers on stops and valves coordinated with lips and mouth and lungs that is the playing of wind instruments. Opera singers are trained players of their own body cavities and the tensing and relaxing of muscles. All this while keeping an eye on the score, or at least having memorized it. Complex music-- AKA classical music -- is the coordination of instruments and players:  a social skill, a social invention. The symphony orchestra was no less an organizational innovation than a factory of workers operating machinery.


Participants in these humans-with-instruments combinations -- composers, players-- practice hand-to-eye-to-ear coordination. When composers are deaf, they can continue to coordinate hand-to-eye and thus generate the social follow-through that is music creation. When composers go blind, they mostly stop composing.


And yet there are a number of blind performer-composers in popular music: Stevie Wonder [blind from birth; Motown contract at 13; his own song albums from 21], Ray Charles [glaucoma as child; studied music at a school for deaf and blind; recorded famous songs in his late 20s], Blind Lemon Jefferson [partially sighted from birth; street singer; gospel and blues recordings in his late 20s]. All were soloists-- singers accompanying themselves on keyboard or guitar; in recordings and performances, sometimes provided with backup musicians and studio directors. All were composers of relatively short songs (3-minutes-plus), in the standard sonata forms of repetitions-and-variations of 20th century popular music. More or less autonomous as performers, they could compose short forms without seeing texts.


Written scores are more central for longer and more elaborately coordinated classical music. In the era before sound recording, composers could only keep up with the music of their peers and rivals-- if they didn't hear it in person-- by circulating their scores. Music publishing coincides with the development of classical music.


Composers were generally performers themselves. Beethoven, who began by improvising dramatically on the piano, continued to perform in his deafness, eventually giving it up, as he gave up orchestra conducting. For him, playing and conducting were bodily habit, that kept for a while its momentum; although he could no longer hear the instruments nor the audience reaction. Handel, who had made his early reputation as the greatest organist and harpsichord player of his time, ended his lengthy stream of operas, oratorios, and concertos when he went blind. That he could continue to play implies that he could rely on memory and muscle skill, but that these alone are not enough to compose new music--- that which enters the repertoire of further musicians by creating written scores.


Music composing, at least in the classical era of large instrumental ensembles, is a cyborg skill. Instruments, performers, composers, all on the same page-- literally.


Writing and reciting, at least for poets and writers of sonorous prose, is a skill of training the inner and outer ear; they create and perform, much less with the eye, combining words on the rhythm of their inner music. (We speak of a writer "finding their voice")


Paradoxically, composers need eyes more than ears; writers need ears more than eyes. But it is no paradox at the level of the blending of inner and social skills that make up what we call creativity.




Harvard Biographical Dictionary of Music. 1996.

Chambers Biographical Dictionary. 1986.

Dero Saunders. 1952. Introduction to Edward Gibbon, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.

Royall Tyler. 2012. The Tale of the Heike. Viking Penguin.


Thursday, June 9, 2022



There are five main processes that states juggle when setting policies on immigration, including economic immigrants, refugees, and asylum-seekers.


[1] Capital accumulation vs. protectionism. Modern capitalism favours the widest possible movement of capital and labour across borders for maximizing profit. In alliance with political forces, however, it can swing towards protectionism. A pro-business party is not necessarily strong enough in its own right; often it allies with conservative and nationalist sentiments in order to get elected. 


[2] National identity rests on popular democracy. The modern state originated in a reaction against dynastic family rule and feudal alliances; we generally refer to this as the rise of democracy, but it also was a move away from internationalism (since dynastic marriages were often across linguistic and cultural borders) and towards nationalism. The replacement of feudalism with a centralized state apparatus moved towards a monopoly of legitimate force upon a bounded territory; and this too built nationalism. Along with internal pacification and policing came border guards, customs, identity checks, and passports. Since the 19th century, states have penetrated their societies with institutions of education, mass media, uniform laws, even sports leagues as well as standardization of language, all driving in the direction of greater homogenization. National identities were built, or intensified, by the territorial state. And modern states (almost all) claim legitimacy based on sovereignty of the people who live there; democracy always has a territorial referent, and democracy reinforces feelings of nationalism.


Nationalism is not necessarily xenophobic, but modern citizens cannot help being aware of distinctions between themselves and outsiders. We can call this populism, perhaps even implying that it is a dangerous form of democracy; but it is nevertheless a result of widespread public participation in politics.


[3] Internal politics in a democracy is concerned, among other things, with bread-and-butter issues of taxation, welfare expenditures (whether provided by government or by insurance), and employment. Immigration always potentially raises questions about how much it will cost, directly if refugees are given special housing and support, and indirectly in competition for jobs. These issues have different intensities depending on whether the economy is growing or stagnating. People living in different regions where their own economic experience is downwards or upwards have different attitudes towards immigrants.


[4] Liberal commitment to altruism and diversity. Many NGOs, and swatches of public opinion are dedicated to the plight of refugees and immigrants. Other social movements and ground-swells of opinion see them as potential dangers (future terrorists? revolutionaries?) or as eroders of local lifestyle and shared social identity. It is an under-theorized question in sociology why such movements lean one way or the other. Media news stories of refugees and images of individual victims (especially young children) create sympathy. But this is a time-bound phenomenon, often temporary; large flows of refugees can lead to a counter-reaction; and large numbers drown individual suffering in statistics, making international audiences jaded.


Pro-immigrant or anti-immigrant policies (or some mixture in between) is the resultant of these four vectors of political influence, impinging on state policies.


A rare example of how these four processes interact is Loyal and Quilley (2018) explaining Ireland’s refugee policies over the years: During the early years of the Irish Republic (1920s and 30s), the political focus was on Gaelic nation-building, a reaction against centuries of English domination. Cultural nationalism combined with penurious welfare and job policies, resulting in excluding all but a handful of refugees during the Nazi/World War period. Capitalist openness to capital and labour dominated during the Celtic Tiger period of economic boom, when the magic key was American investment in a low-tax country with entry to EU markets.  And a sudden proliferation of NGOs in Ireland since the 1990s, became part of an unexplained ground-swell of altruistic internationalism.


Altruistic movements tend to take themselves as the default setting, the theoretical baseline against which we study other movements. There are plenty of studies of nationalism and anti-immigrant sentiment; but altruistic/internationalist movements need a sociological explanation too. No such theory is offered here, but the Irish case and its historical context points up an important factor—not indigenous to a given state, but operating from without:


[5]  The social construction of international law. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) and the Geneva Convention on the right to asylum from evil regimes (1951) were established by international treaty. These are perhaps the strongest force favouring refugees, since none of the state-centered and domestic forces listed above are unequivocally pro-refugee, and they often act in a nativist manner. Arguably the proliferation of NGOs is a movement into the moral and conceptual niche created by international treaties. But how to improve our analysis from a recitation of arbitrary historical facts, to a theory that explains when international agreements are made, and what makes them popular? Signatories to international treaties often fail to live up to them, since implementation is left to national states.


Let me suggest some general processes. The big treaties were the result of international conferences, held among the victorious powers at the end of World War I and II, and in the Cold War period leading to the collapse of the Soviet empire. Ostensibly these treaties were created so that the causes of war and forced population movements could be remedied. The diplomats of the Great Powers tended to frame laws on human rights against the regimes they defeated or were currently opposing: genocidal regimes and ideologies, forced labor, atrocities of ethnic cleansing, stifling of political dissent.


But as new regimes and alliances have appeared, the original intent of international law found new targets: condemning atrocities by Nazis and Communists were now shifted to critiques of colonial and post-colonial regimes, and declarations of universal human rights could be aimed at segregation or discrimination by race and religion, or yet further by gender or sexual preference. For this reason, world powers like the U.S. have backed off of agreement or enforcement of international treaties such as those allowing prosecution of soldiers for their behavior abroad. In sum, Great-Power diplomacy is an unreliable basis for laws guaranteeing universal human rights.


This brings us to an unexpected source of moral commitment, the diplomacy of small states. The very fact of being militarily weak, or being outside of the major alliances (the situation of Ireland and the Scandinavian countries) gives an opportunity for international prestige, as a neutral arbiter, taking a fair and altruistic stance above the game of power. Humanitarian activists from the small and unaligned states became prominent in the early years of the United Nations and other international treaty organizations:  one thinks of Dag Hammarskjold (an activist UN Secretary General and martyr for international mediation), and Ireland’s Conor Cruise O’Brien, sending blue helmets against insurgents as de-colonization rippled through Africa; more recently, former Irish President Mary Robinson as UN High Commissioner for refugees. Max Weber argued that states enter into wars largely in order to bolster their power-prestige in the international arena; even at an economic cost, they want to be seen as major players in the game. History since 1945 suggests a corollary: small states, without military power, can achieve international prestige by staking out their position as leading internationalists.


The question is: what determines the balance of the various forces pro and con refugees in the many states of the world? Theories that assume they are the arc of history are not necessarily good predictors. Add the causal forces together and we will see.





Steven Loyal and Stephen Quilley. 2018. State Power and Asylum Seekers in Ireland.  Palgrave Macmillan.


Sinisa Malesevic. 2019.  Grounded Nationalisms. Cambridge Univ. Press.


Michael Mann. 2005. The Dark Side of Democracy. Cambridge Univ. Press.


Friday, February 4, 2022


 The word “friends” has at least five different meanings:



Backstage intimates

Fun friends

Mutual interests friends

Sociable acquaintances


Whether social media “friends” are one of these five, or a sixth distinctive type, we shall see.


Friends are sociologically important because they are the building blocks of social networks. How should we analyze these ties, considering there are so many different kinds?  Which kinds of ties are we talking about when we say that social ties promote physical health and prevent suicide; that they make successful careers and are the key to happiness? Different kinds of ties can have opposite effects.


Allies.  The oldest meaning of “friends” is allies. In ancient Rome, to be a “friend of Rome” meant to be a military ally; and that meant you were required to bring your troops to fight alongside the Romans when demanded. If you didn’t, you were likely to be exterminated; Romans enlisted defeated enemies as their “friends” -- but punished them severely if they backed out. The legal term survives in amicus curiae, “friend of the court”, an outside party whose lawyers argue alongside one of the parties of a case. It was also a political term; “friends of Caesar” (or of Antony, etc.) were their political partisans. In the Clinton administration, FOB (“friends of Bill”) was a code word for privileged insiders (usually big campaign donors) who had Bill Clinton’s phone number.


Today in private life a lot of what gets called “friends” are people who help each other out: lending you money when you need it; recommending you for  school admission or a job; taking your side in office politics. Sometimes these relationships are reciprocal-- a chain of gift exchanges among equals-- but often they are top-sided, a patron and protégé. The mentor/sponsor gets paid back by having disciples and followers; or the prestige that goes with their success. In the short run he or she gets paid back by getting deference or at least attention. Parents usually launch their children’s careers and underwrite their expenses; but if that kind of alliance is what their relationship is about, deference is likely to be perfunctory and short-lived, increasingly so as children grow up. Modern Americans say they love their children, but in practice this often means they are in a one-sided alliance relationship.


Backstage intimates.  Network researchers have defined a network tie or friend as “someone you discuss important matters with.” These are supposed to be crucial personal decisions-- whether to risk an operation, whether to quit your job, whether to get married or divorced. More broadly, backstage implies privacy and secrecy; things are said that you don’t want to get out, discussing people you don’t like; girls discussing boys they have a crush on. Lovers and spouses ideally share such intimacy, bedroom talk being less importantly about sex (which can be wordless or monosyllabic) but about events of the day when you had to keep your feelings to yourself.*


*Sir Francis Bacon, in his essay “On Friendship” says everyone needs someone they can unburden their heart to; and that true friends are those who loyally carry out your wishes. Thus in the Elizabethan world of 1590 he sees friends as backstage intimates and permanent allies.


Goffman viewed everyday life as alternating between play-acting frontstage roles and preparing on backstages. People who share a similar backstage are likely to be the most intimate kinds of friends. This is why celebrities-- pop stars, movie idols-- tend to marry each other (or at least their agents), because dealing with fans means dealing with persons in a state of gushy excitement, and only other insiders can be fully at ease together.


Fun friends. A shortcoming of network research is that it ignores the biggest category of friends you like to spend your time with. Among children this is the main meaning of “friends”. At my granddaughter’s day care center, the kids had posted up their answers to “what is a friend?” Most of the answers said something like “a friend is someone you play with; a friend shares their toys with you.”  Who invites you to their birthday party (which, unlike most adult parties, is an occasion for having fun). Among teenagers and young adults, the term is “hang out with” (i.e. enjoying yourselves doing nothing serious). What is most fun are adventures, pulling pranks, getting intoxicated, carousing; as we can see because these are the stories they like to tell each other when hanging out. Sociologist Tony King observed that soccer hooligans recycle tales of their fights as the staple conversation of their drinking bouts, in what he calls “narrative gratification.” These are stories told with exaggeration and laughter, fun recapitulating fun.


Observing the leisure gatherings of adults, we generally find the successful, career-obsessed upper-middle class has little fun in this sense; their “friends” are of a different kind and their parties are mostly shop-talk. Working-class and lower-middle class people tend to be very fun-oriented when they are young, but age out of it more quickly, into passive TV watching and its surrogates. But within each social class, there is usually a division between the “fast crowd” and the boringly conventional.The first chapter of Tolstoy’s War and Peace follows his main characters first at a polite soirée where ladies and gentlemen discuss political events and gossip about appointments; then to a drunken party of elite Guards officers where they dare each other to chug-a-lug a bottle while swaying on a high windowsill, and threaten a policeman with a pet bear. This kind of division between the cool/fast/hip crowd, and the nerdy/square/straight, is subjectively more important than vertical class divisions for a substantial portion between their teens and the onset of middle age.* Whether or not status ranking by carousing has recently changed to greater popularity of the “geeks” -- a trend not yet carefully measured-- it calls out for sociological explanation.


* David Grazian, On the Make, a multi-perspective ethnography of urban night life, concludes that most young middle-class persons today have a split personality, adopting their “nocturnal self” when they go out with their fun friends (among males, their “wing-man”).


Mutual-interests friends. These are persons who like to be with each other because they share a common interest: playing chess, or bridge, or poker; repairing old cars; comparing wines; cooking and talking about it. In Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt, two of the side-characters who distract from the impending murder are fans of detective stories, spending their time at dinner telling each other how they would go about murdering each other. All sorts of shared interests can be the cultural capital for this kind of friendship.


We might include mutual-interest friends as a sub-type of fun friends; except that the former are usually considered rather square. Fun friends are noisy, carousing, extroverts; mutual-interest friends are generally rather quiet and sedentary. Their interests rarely reach to a peak of shared laughter or the shriek of excited children. Sociologically, we lack surveys of what proportion are in the fun friends sector and what portion of the population are in the shared interests zone. The latter may well be a bigger share, just less visible-- fun friends attract the most attention, like the zany fans in wild outfits stripping themselves in freezing weather who attract the gaze of TV cameras at football games.


Sociable acquaintances. Among modern Americans, the biggest stretch in using the word “friends” refers to people who invite each other to dinner or parties at their homes. Friends here means people who encounter each other in leisure, outside of work or public life. They invite each other to weddings. They meet for lunch; “we should get together and talk” implies something will be said that is to some degree exclusive. There is a continuum running from people you meet at a reception or big party venue; those you have a drink with, or a coffee, tête-à-tête; and those who you invite into your home. The last echoes a medieval definition of marriage, commensality and connubium, sitting at table together and bedding together. It is a continuum of degrees of intimacy.


But not the intimacy of backstage confidantes, as one can tell from what sociable acquaintances talk about. They gossip about mutual acquaintances; they gossip about themselves, making little conversational melodramas, or attempts at humor, out of the ordinary events of their lives, or just filling the time with whatever they both can talk about, a shared cultural capital of the lowest denomination. This personal quality of their shared attention marks the occasion as leisure, rather than work, off-duty rather than on. Persons who violate this boundary line can get away with it if they are sufficiently important in the public world; but they sacrifice being considered sociable friends, since they are not sociable persons. As fraternity boys say about those they would never rush: they lack social skills.


Sociable acquaintances need not be allies; they are not intimates (at least during “social occasions”); they are not fun friends, nor even shared-interests friends in the sense of people with the same hobby. They are being sociable for the sake of being sociable, avoiding whatever keeps them from being so. They perform on the archetypal Goffmanian frontstage that he documented from old etiquette books. Etiquettes change, and the generations before 1960 were much more explicitly conscious of the show they were trying to keep up. There still exists a category of people we regard as friends because we take part together in the rituals of social acquaintance.


The number of such acquaintances one has varies by social class. Upper-class persons have most social commitments, and know the most people in this superficial sense. (Rockefeller used to employ a full-time secretary just to keep track of sending out Christmas cards; John F. Kennedy had an aide file the names of spouses and children of persons he was scheduled to meet so he could mention them.) Upper-middle class professionals and managers are heavily networked among business associates; while traveling and conferencing they are expected to take a break and socialize, turning allies (or customers or rivals) temporarily into sociable acquaintances. These formally-based networks narrow towards to the lower-middle and working classes, whose sociable acquaintances (and gatherings) derive less from work and more from relatives and neighbours (which would include such groups as neighbourhood gangs); most religion-based networks are found here.


Thus the balance among the five kinds of friends varies among social classes, and probably other dimensions (such as gender, sexual preference, and race). I will explore the consequences of this shortly. For now, we need to answer the question:


What kind of friend is a social media “friend”?


A first shot at an answer is by looking at numbers. Respondents in traditional in-person network research on “friends” usually name only a few persons they “discuss important matters with.” If we go more broadly for acquaintances, sociologists found a few dozen or less for working class, up through hundreds for the professional classes. When I was active in the ASA, I’d check the index of people on the annual meeting program, finding I knew a hundred or so. Facebook friends are a different order of magnitude: most young people have hundreds; many have thousands. *


* It is reported that some persons don’t want anyone who lists only 50 or so friends to be part of their neighbourhood babysitting group, since such “isolates” might be psychopaths.


My inference is that social media friends are not backstage intimates, fun friends, or allies. They might be mutual interest friends, although given the prestige of having hundreds or thousands of friends, on-line friend-seekers resort to listing everyone they can from high school yearbooks and other remote connections, suggesting that they don’t even need mutual interests to count in the total. The nearest conventional category is sociable acquaintances, except that the numbers on-line ramp everyone up to the level of the most active social butterflies or politicians of the upper classes. If true, this is quite a revolution in social prestige. 


I will revisit the question of whether social acquantainces are a good model for the sociology of on-line friends, after we look more closely at micro-sociology of interaction.


Multiplex friends


Is overlapping friendship categories a good thing?  Spouses and domestic partners are lucky if they are simultaneously backstage intimates, fun friends and mutual-interests friends. Single-dimension couples are more likely to break up.


This also applies to political allies. I once observed a bitter struggle in a sociology department over hiring a new professor. By chance, several months before the issue arose, I had done a network analysis of the faculty, charting who taught courses together, collaborated in research, ate lunch together, or invited each other into their homes. The network held together by multiple ties won the fight; those who had none of these ties lost the vote (and some angrily resigned). It even predicted the fence-sitters in the debate-- these had some friendship ties with the dominant coalition but not multiplex ties.


Each person can have an array of different kinds of friends; but this kind of multiplexity can pull them apart: (I like you but I don’t like your friends. Bored with your work allies and their shop talk. Don’t hang around with that bunch of rowdy drunks after work.) Distinct friendship networks held up in the old-fashioned arrangement when male and female networks rarely met. David Halle in America’s Working Man found that men drank and watched football with their buddies, while their wives occasionally dragged them to weddings and church services. In the couples-centered social world of the middle and upper-classes, fitting two whole friendship arrays together is more of a strain. This may be why they put off marrying longer; and it keeps these class networks at the superficial level of sociable acquaintances.


Are friends of my friends my friends?  [FOMFMF]


Not as much as balance theory would expect. FOMFMF applies most clearly to allies. But even in international diplomacy, countries can be opportunistic. In personal life and office politics, it may hold up for a while. But retirements and new hires change the mix, and creates a drift to the new winning coalition. And young turks after a successful take-over become rivals.


Does FOMFMF apply to backstage intimates? no.


Fun friends? maybe. But even by themselves, fun friends tend to be ephemeral. Summer vacation friends.


Mutual interest friends? Could be. Not much jealousy and possessiveness among poker players or sports fans; FOMFMF is a way to expand a hobby network. But such friends are pretty much interchangeable, so the network might not expand but just shift around.


Social acquaintances? Yes, probably. Especially when people are actively “networking”, deliberately trying to expand their networks. Since these are superficial ties, it is easy to add them; although time pressures may make it hard to keep up with all of them.


Are enemies of my friends my enemies? [EOMFME]


This applies mainly to the world of allies. But in war, politics and business, opportunism pays off, and side-switching is not uncommon (this is the essence of the bandwagon effect).


In personal life, friends of friends often resist being drawn into others’ quarrels. [Martin 2009] Those who insist on EOMFME can wreck their own friendships. I knew a man who had a bitter quarrel with his son; a few years later he refused to attend his daughter’s wedding if his son were there; and this led to a permanent split with his daughter. When people say “It’s a matter of principle!” they are usually doing something self-destructive.


Conversely, friends of friends can result in new ties after a breakup. A substantial portion of people marry the friend, roommate, or sibling of their old boyfriend/girlfriend. Laumann [1994] asked in a survey “how did you meet your last sex partner?” Many said, it was a friend of their previous sex partner. Two-step network ties are intrinsically neither positive or negative; but they are easy opportunities for creating new ties.


What is love?  Sex plus successful IRs


Love is a combination of two things. One is sex. Micro-sociologically, sex is an interaction ritual (IR) focused on bodies. The ingredients are the same as other kinds of IRs: sharing the same feeling or emotion -- in this case lust; a mutual focus of attention -- each other’s body, with reciprocal awareness, drawing the world down to a here-and-now inhabited by two bodies, and excluding all else. Like all successful IRs, sufficient ingredients intensify the turn-on into rhythmic coordination (otherwise found in fine-tuned flow of gestures or conversation), here in the rhythm of making love. This too is collective effervescence: excitement whose archetype Durkheim found in pagan religious rituals; here two bodies pulsing together.


Of course, not all sex is so intense, or reciprocal. Some sex is one-sided; but that is the formula for one-sided love.


Besides sex, the other component of love is the feeling that you “click,” an easy attraction to each other in all sorts of ways. This means successful IRs in other dimensions: smoothly flowing intimate conversation; having fun together; doing and talking about things of common interest. * A love relationship checks all the boxes: backstage intimacy; fun, mutual-interests-- except social acquaintance, which is superficial and public, precisely what love is not. If they go on to become a couple, they necessarily become allies too; both because successful IRs create solidarity (as Durkheim said about religious rituals); and because living together creates an economic element, a shared household, and under modern marriage laws, shared property. The allies dimension is iffy, though, because disputes about money are a major source of couples acrimony; and low-level annoyances of living together are mainly about practical matters like heating the bedroom and picking up one’s clothes. [Emerson 2015]


*McFarland’s research [2013] on speed-dating found that couples who clicked, talked less in questions-and-answers (i.e. seeking information about each other’s demographics and life story), instead finding something they liked to talk about.


Love is a continuum, depending on the strength of each of its ingredients: highest when sexual rhythms are strongly attuned; plus the degree to which all the other kinds of friendship IRs are successful. 


The history of love; and  history of friendship


Love can be based on sex alone.  After all, that is the origin of the word-- eros, amor -- in ancient and pre-modern times.* Love was recognized in every society; I can’t think of one that doesn’t have love songs or love myths. But until very recently, love was distinct from marriage. Especially so where marriage and kinship were the building blocks of society. Both tribal and feudal/aristocratic families were built on arranged marriages; formally controlled sexual relationships were at the center of alliance politics and the transfer of status and property by inheritance. Harems and mistresses could exist alongside.


* Cupid comes from the Latin cupiditas-- lust.


In modern societies, marriage and love tend to come together, at least in ideology, and at least temporarily in reality (the few weeks before a wedding). Individuals became free to choose their own partners (we see this by 1800 in the novels of Jane Austen and George Sand). At first parents exercized influence and veto power, but parents were pretty much out of the picture by the time of the dating and partying scenes of Scott Fitzgerald’s jazz age in the 1920s.


Love only became free in the modern sense because of an historic change in social structure: the state became separate from family and household, shifting from aristocratic kin alliances to bureaucracy and democracy; and this left the field of love open for individuals' erotics and friendship. The early 1800s were called the Romantic era, among other reasons because it was the time of historical shifts in personal freedom and in sex and love.


The history of friendship shifts at the same time and for the same underlying reasons. In ancient times, “friends” meant political allies, but gradually came to mean personal relationships.


Backstage friends hardly existed when there was no privacy. People lived in small villages and crowded dwellings; large castles and palaces were full of servants and retainers, with no privacy even in the royal bed-chamber. Courtiers vied for the right to hold the royal chamber-pot. We see the change in the history of architecture; corridors and hallways only started to become common in the 1700s and 1800s; before then one room just led into another, and were full of people. Privacy becomes an expectable right only in the wealthy societies of the 20th century. Without privacy, it is hard to have a backstage.


“Fun” friends did exist, but the term did not. Cleopatra kept Antony enthralled by playing with him, such as by roaming the nights in disguise and disturbing the homes of the ordinary people. Alexander the Great was famous for wild drinking parties with his buddies. [Collins, Charisma.] There were words for carousing and jesting. But foolishness was reserved for fools; and fooling around would become valued only in the 20th century. In Shakespeare, “clown” meant a peasant; it came to mean an circus role in the 1800s; clowning around became casual entertainment only recently. In the 1600s “fun” meant to trick or hoax,* from an older word meaning to be a fool or make a fool of someone. In the late 1800s and during WWI soldiers would speak ironically of combat as “in on the fun” or “the circus.” Not until mid-20th century does “fun” become a valued form of leisure.


*In the rural South, “you’re just funning me” still had the old meaning.


In Latin, the word for “happy” was felix, meaning lucky, fortunate, successful. The English word derives from the same root as “happen” and “happenstance” -- happening by chance or good luck. It added the meaning, a pleasurable or contented state of mind, in the 1700s; the term “happy family” appears in the 1860s. World War II coined expressions such as flak-happy, trigger-happy, and slap-happy, meaning dazed or light-headed. “Happy hour” in bars dates from 1962. [word derivations from OED.]


“Buddy” meant a working companion, originally in a mine. In the 20th century, it was extended to the “buddy system” in the army; and eventually to friends who hang out together. “Pal” has a similar history, originally meaning “brother” or “mate.”


Mutual-interests friends are probably the category that expanded the most over the centuries. There were circles of poets among Chinese gentry in the medieval dynasties; and we see European paintings of amateur musicians playing their lutes in the 1600s; gatherings to listen to someone play the piano become common in the 1800s. But "hobby" or "hobbyist" meant a silly obsession until it acquired its current meaning around 1950.*


* A “hobby” was originally a small horse; in 1818, a toy horse with wheels for children to ride. The term was soon used to mock someone as a crank. Around 1900 it began to be extended to pastimes like stamp collecting. 


Social acquaintances as a form of friends existed in some form, but was not very prestigious. In Rome, “parasites” were hangers-on at a rich man’s house, hoping for a lower place at dinner in this very status-stratified society.  A similar but more exalted pattern developed in the rank-conscious court at Versailles and its imitators in the 1600s. [Elias, The Court Society] The notion that guests and host are friends of equal status dates from the 20th century.


Overall, the amount of time spent with friends of any kind other than allies has greatly increased. The era of the Internet amplifies this even more. The generation born after 1998 spend an average of nine hours a day on their smart phones, an unprecedented amout of time with “friends” however they are defined.


What lies ahead? The meaning of friendship has shifted enormously over the centuries. Some of the biggest changes happened quite recently, as we see in the history of the words “fun,” “happy,” “buddy,” “pal,” and “hobbyist,” and the 21st century category of Internet “friend.” There is no reason to expect that such changes are going to stop now.


What difference do friendship networks make?


Now for the question about effects of friendship on health, happiness, and career. Which kind of networks are good for your health? Isolation, especially when old, is said to shorten your life. One possibility is that all kinds of friends keep you alive, even superficial acquaintances, a warm bodies effect. A more refined hypothesis is that positive health effects come only from successful IRs. We have little evidence broken down in this way, but here are some likely inferences:


Allies do not have to be warm and personal; interactions can be manipulative, artificial, or subservient. This doesn’t sound like much of a support group. Alliances can be turbulent and breakable. Such breaks can be traumatic or disappointing. Is this a blow to your health?


Backstage intimates: On a personal or family level, intimates can be quarrelsome or domineering, the opposite of supportive; indeed, a formula for suicide. As IRs, they are not only unsuccessful, they are negative.*


* Christakis’s research found that persons whose friends are obese also tend to be obese. The mechanism may be that obese persons are mutual interest friends whose hobby is eating. Another possibility is they are friends because they have similar backstages, relegated to failure in the associative market for attractive friends and lovers.


Laumann found that men are particularly unlikely to tell their friends if they have a serious health problem. This can be interpreted as a lack of backstage confidantes. A possible reason is that, in many professions, to announce you are very ill is to rule yourself out of ongoing career competition. Being an object of sympathy also signals that your job is an upcoming vacancy. This is a negative trade-off between alliance friends and backstage intimates.


Mutual-interest friends are less contentious relationships. They are rarely traumatic, but are they supportive? The healthiness of these kinds of friendships remains to be tested.


Fun friends would seem to be particularly good for health and happiness. Shared laughter is supposed to be the best medicine.  Contagious laughter is a bodily experience, intensely shared rhythms of a successful interaction ritual. But distinguish between spontaneous laughter and forced laughter. As one can observe, working class men and young men commonly punctuate their conversations with laughs, and so do women when they are gushing together with praise about something. The indicator of the success of social laughter as an IR is whether it is contagious to the listener (just watch the listener’s face), or if it is merely the speaker’s way of talking.


Even the uproarious fun of carousing together can sometimes turn negative. Laughter can be cruel, if the fun is bullying a helpless target. [Weenink 2014]  At fraternity parties, it is the isolated girl who keeps on drinking to the end who gets gang-raped; female friends get their drunk friends away, foreseeing beyond the moments of fun. [Sanday, Fraternity Gang Rape]


Network effects on career success have been better studied, and we have more information on what kinds are friends are involved.  Granovetter initiated a stream of research on “the strength of weak ties”, showing that casual acquaintances are better than close friends in providing information about job openings.  But acquaintance ties are valuable mainly for time-bound information where moving faster than competitors gives the advantage. Villette [2009] found that the big fortunes are made by persons who cultivate long-term ties with competitors and suppliers in their line of business. They keep close tabs on their innovations (like Steve Jobs getting the screen-mapping technique from Xerox before they knew what to do with it; and his hanger-on Bill Gates taking it away to Microsoft). Villette found that business empires were built by making loans to rivals in trouble, then taking over their business; usually by going through hard-ball law suits. Villette characterizes most ties that build fortunes as predatory.


Long-term ties from working closely together are characteristic of success in fields where winning the public over to a new style depends on creating networks of followers dedicated to spreading the style. Among modernist architects at the turn of the 20th century, Guillen and Collins [2015] found that very strong ties-- years spent as collaborator or apprentice produced the networks that spread success.  In the intellectual world, the innovators of one generation are often pupils of the famed innovators of the previous generation; ultimate success also involves a degree of betrayal, since the younger have to break away to acquire their own reputation; what they learn is the techniques of innovation, and a key is to know the competitive field thoroughly so that one can find innovative niches with intuitive feel. [Collins 1998] These kinds of intergenerational networks are also found among famous artists, and music composers.


Which of the five types of friends are these? Above all they are alliance ties, within a particular field of expertise. They don’t have to be personal friends, intimates, or fun friends; one could say they are intensely mutual-interests friends, where the obsessive interest is shop talk.


Empirical indicators


Doing research on kinds of friends is not difficult; it is only a matter of observing, or asking the right questions.


Allies:  talking about money; asking for loans; asking for letters of reference, endorsements, asking to contact further network friends for jobs or investments. In specialized fields like scientific research, talking about what journals or editors to approach, what topics are hot, giving helpful advice on drafts. In art and music: gossiping about who’s doing what, contacts with agents, galleries, venues.


Backstage intimates:  Speaking in privacy; taking care not to be overheard. Don’t tell anybody about this.


Fun friends:  Shared laughter, especially spontaneous and contagious. Facial and body indicators of genuine amusement, not forced smiles or saying “that’s funny” instead of laughing. Very strong body alignment, such as fans closely watching the same event and exploding in synch into cheers or curses. 


Mutual-interests friends: talking at great length about a single topic. Being unable to tear oneself away from an activity, or from conversations about it.


Sociable acquaintances:  General lack of all of the above, in situations where people expect to talk with each other about something besides practical matters (excuse me, can I get by?) Banal commonplace topics, the small change of social currency: the weather; where are you from; what do you do; foreign travels; do you know so-and-so? Answers to “how are you doing?” which avoid giving away information about one’s problems or matters of serious concern. Talking about politics can be conversational filler (when everyone assumes they’re in the same political faction), as often happens at the end of dinner parties when all other topics have been exhausted.


Two ways to collect this information:


(1) Ask people if they know someone with whom they do any of the above.


(2) Ask them to list people they know; then ask them to check the boxes for each person.


Try it yourself by making a checklist of your friends. Observing these indicators when you see them in interaction.


Finally, to give a more empirical basis for the question of what kind of friends are network friends: use the checklist to see how they interact on-line.




Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler. 2009. Connected: The Surprising Power of Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives.


Randall Collins. 1998. The Sociology of Philosophies.


                        2020. Charisma: Micro-sociology of Power and Influence.


Norbert Elias. 1983. The Court Society.


Robert Emerson. 2015. Everyday Troubles. The Micro-politics of Interpersonal Conflict.


David Grazian. 2008. On the Make. The Hustle of Urban Nightlife.


Mauro Guillen and Randall Collins. 2019. "Movement-based influence: resource mobilization, intense interaction, and the rise of modernist architecture." Sociological Forum.


David Halle. 1984. America's Working Man.


Edward O. Laumann et al. 1994. The Social Organization of Sexuality.


John Levi Martin. 2009. Social Structures.


Daniel McFarland et al. 2013. “Making the connection: Social Bonding in Courtship Situations.” Amer. J. Sociology.


OED = The Complete Oxford English Dictionary. 1991.


Peggy Reeves Sanday. 2007.  Fraternity Gang Rape.


Michel Villette and Catherine Vuillermot. 2009. From Predators to Icons. Exposing the Myth of the Business Hero.


Don Weenink. 2014. "Frenzied attacks: emotional dynamics of extreme youth violence." Brit. J. Sociol.