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Friendship and Patronage

Summarizing nine years of research on personal relations in historical, anthropological, and cross-cultural perspectives.

Since 2006, the PhD research group "Friends, Patrons, Clients. Practice and semantics of friendship and patronage in historical, anthropological and cross-cultural perspectives" of the Albert-Ludwig University Freiburg has been analyzing personal relations that go beyond the context of family and kinship in different historical and cultural contexts. The work of the research group will come to an end in the summer of 2015. On this occasion we would like to invite current and former collegiates, fellows, professors and guests to recapitulate the past, present and future of research on friendship and patronage.

The incentive of the research group was to combine the concepts of friendship and patronage in order to avoid the modern idea of friendship as a strictly symmetrical relation unconstraint by expectation of benefit. Simultaneously, the concept of patronage as a purely instrumental relation was questioned. Particularly the affective dimension, the rituals and symbols of friendship as well as self-descriptions of the affected and specific forms of interaction between the latter were brought to the fore. Besides clarifying the notions of friendship and patronage, their historical development, their semantics and symbolic practices and their connection with a specific political culture, cross-cultural and gender aspects were taken into account

At the conference we would like to address the questions and discuss the results of the research group during an opening panel discussion on the developments within this field of research before concentrating on specific aspects of the matter in three sections on "Affective Communities", "Politics of Communities", and "Typologies of Personal Relations".


Section 1: Affective Communities


The title of this section points to a strong relation between affection and community, the form of which depends to a large degree on the affective experience of those involved. The aim of this section is to examine affection as a community-shaping element, and to focus on the processual and temporal nature of community.

In traditional thinking on "community" we encounter notions related to homogeneity, stringing members together through permanent – quasi natural – feelings of belonging. Union of this kind does not however occur "by itself". Mechanisms of power and dominance – be they historical or contemporary – are closely related to practices aimed at generating and strengthening "community". Through attempts to emphasise homogeneity of feeling and sensing, such efforts extend to the affective plane.

Recent approaches in the humanities conceptualise community in terms that draw our attention to heterogeneous elements. At times they seem to render the concept of "community" as a deeper and stronger union redundant. Taking inspiration from scholars such as Gilles Deleuze, Bruno Latour and Jean-Luc Nancy, one can conceive of communities as always in flux, at all times contingently constituted, in a process of being created and unequally affected. It is precisely this heterogeneity which may provide sources for societal change. From this perspective, it is not the positing of a pre-determined affection that engenders community; rather, pre-conscious affective movements can be drawn upon to encourage processes of transformations within communities.
Building on the tension between these approaches, this section invites participants to engage with a multitude of questions: in dealing with the affective within communities and its value for communities what changes can we observe over time? (How) can we justify the control and conditioning of affection in the name of the advancement of "community"? And what happens to the notion of "community" itself in the light of the fleeting nature of affection? We hope that by tackling these – and similar – questions, we will help create a sense of affection that is mutual and invigorating.
Section 2: Politics of Communities

What are the semantics and practices underlying and creating the "politics of communities"? This question of the section arises out of current debates, one example being the Manifeste Convivialiste, recently initiated by French scientists and intellectuals. These "Convivialists" are part of a movement that views the common welfare as a community of concern for the other. The terms "politic" and "community" are nowadays repeatedly employed for the analysis of novel forms of interaction, as seen in the cases of social movements, the web 2.0 and strategic essentialisms.
The semantic fields of each of these terms is broad. "Politics" addresses issues of sovereignty, conflict, power, freedom, conversation, or utopian criticism; "community" might point to the (all-embracing) world community, to the (relational) web-community or to (particular) personal relationships which are often perceived as a negative form of community.

These semantic fields engender the question of the possibility of a non-normative analysis: which politics and what norms precede different conceptions of "community"? What do everyday practices, artistic and activist interventions tell us about "community", and how do these (re)act to the norms and to attempts at their standardization? What are the political implications of the term "community"? Should we follow Jacques Derrida's insight that communities suspend the other as members resemble one another and only the similar is being loved? Or does his idea of hospitality offer an alternative form of community? How can we deal with semantics and practices of communities which embody overt repressive politics as the "Volksgemeinschaft" of National Socialism? Is Jean-Luc Nancy’s thinking aimed at stimulating plurality within communities an alternative as he tries to overcome a notion of community that represents individual claims to power? Or is a relational access in empirical research, as Daniel Miller suggests, by shunning overhasty abstractions and categorisations a worthwhile tool for the analysis of human interaction and practices in all their complexity with concomitant political implications?

This section will discuss these questions and the tensions they create on a micro and macro-level, providing different perspectives for an analysis of the norms and relations implicit in the terms "politic" and "community".
Section 3: Typologies of Social Relationships

The doctoral research group "friends, patrons, clients" has the analysis of typologies of social relationships as its goal. This does not mean the delineation of ideal types taken out of context and viewed at a meta-historical level, but rather the provision of an explanatory framework for particular relationships or networks. Social relations will be compared and contrasted: thus, to cite but one example, the range meanings embodied in the term "friend" have altered dramatically over time. An overriding typology can provide the framework for comparison and contrast of such a term within specific contexts.
A focus on close social relationships engenders the questions: what constitutes a close social relationship? how do such relationships differ from remote social relationships? does the transition from remote to close relationships parallel the distinction between friend and patron? Or does such a distinction express the two sides of a close relationship? Does affection lead to a transformation of the relationship? And does the term relationship alter when applied to a group?
The goal of this panel is to pose such questions and to provide answers based on our individual research projects, and, as a result, to open up the question of the analysis of typologies of social relationships for discussion.


You can download the Conference Description here.

  • Postadresse:

    Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg
    DFG-Graduiertenkolleg 1288
    c/o Historisches Seminar
    Rempartstr. 15 - KG IV
    79085 Freiburg 
  • Besuchsadresse:

    Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg
    DFG-Graduiertenkolleg 1288
    Erbprinzenstraße 13
    79098 Freiburg
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