Friendship structures – modern and pre-modern
Julian Haseldine (University of Hull)
Political Studies Association (2010)
In recent years the study of friendship in medieval Europe has changed from the study of evidence for supposed individual emotional attachments to the study of bonds which structured wider social and political relationships. The aims of this paper are firstly to present some of the methodologies and analytical concepts which medievalists have been developing to study friendship bonds and networks, and some of the (often still tentative or provisional) conclusions drawn about the role of friendship in social structures and political order, and secondly to invite discussion about the relative position of personal bonds, including friendship, in pre-modern and modern societies.
Medieval society was traditionally seen as one based on personal bonds, often dyadic, such as lordship and vassalage, or patronage, and medieval political society as little more than the sum of many such bonds, often envisaged in schema such as the “feudal pyramid” of English historiography; the “state”, such as it was, comprised the sum of many such two-way bonds sealed by personal loyalty (and so essentially “private”) with only a vestigial concept of a wider “public” polity. The, perhaps more sociologically informed, German construct of the Personenverbandsstaat expressed a similar conception – a state made up of personal bonds with little or no constitutional framework. These earlier models, and the stark contrast between public and private which they embody, while still influential, have been significantly revised and medieval society is now widely recognised as having had more complex corporate, collective, legal and regnal political structures.