Hot Topics, Gringo Parties, and the Dependent Independence of Friendship in the Field

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‘You do not know what it means to me, to be at this kind of party, to talk to these kinds of people’, my research assistant Rodrigo told me after a soirée in the elite South Zone of Rio. ‘É uma viagem’, it’s a journey. Rodrigo, who had already worked with three anthropologists by the time I came to be his employer, thrived with the affordances of friendship, in the face of the volatility of his favela life. He relished ‘mixing groups up’, and this fetish was fed by the overflow of journalists and researchers who in 2015 were covering mega events, favela removals, and policing programs. As the year elapsed, violence in favelas escalated, ‘visiting others’ came and went, and so did Rodrigo’s appetite to befriend the ‘other’. While research on the enabling aspects of friendship’s lack of fixity have been extensive, by exploring our relationship, I seek to address how problematic fluidity and dynamism can be for those who engage in friendship. I will argue that demanding fixity and setting up boundaries can be understood as an enabling process, particularly in the post-colonial, globalized and gravely unequal context of contemporary favelas.

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Friendship in southern European societies has been recognized theoretically and empirically as a male-oriented institution. Women are supposedly prohibited from forming friendships, primarily because of moral restrictions on “place” and the constrictions of ties to the domestic group after marriage. Data collected in an Andalusian (southern Spain) town challenge these assumptions, showing that the female dilemma of balancing acceptable domestic decorum with the apparent need for friendship is resolved by the cognitive and behavioral “veiling” of friendship in an appropriate domestic context.
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