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Edited by Carla Risseeuw and Marlein van Raalte

The concept of friendship is more easily valued than it is described: this volume brings together reflections on its meaning and practice in a variety of social and cultural settings in history and in the present time, focusing on Asia and the Western, Euro-American world.
The extension of the group in which friendship is recognized, and degrees of intimacy (whether or not involving an erotic dimension) and genuine appreciation may vary widely. Friendship may simply include kinship bonds—solidarity being one of its more general characteristics. In various contexts of travelling, migration, and a dearth of offspring, friendship may take over roles of kinship, also in terms of care.


Ranjini Obeyesekere

This article discusses three stories from the Jātaka Collection, a compendium of Buddhist folk stories—some of which date back to the third century bce. The collection as it exists today was complied, scholars believe, between the first and fifth centuries ce. Since that time it has been translated back and forth into many languages and has become part of the popular culture of the Asian Buddhist world.

The three stories the author has selected are from a fourteenth-century ce Sinhala text and focus around the theme of ‘friendship.’ They deal with three different forms of friendship as experienced in medieval Indian and Sri Lankan societies.


Nita Kumar

In this article I try to establish the class, gendered and provincial nature of friendship practices and discourses of ordinary people, such as artisans and workers, as well as making a case for friendship as performative.

There is a real history that constitutes elite and non-elite classes in India and their relationships and values. One of these values is dharma or a reasoned intuition of ‘what is appropriate’; another is the idea of enactment or play. I look at my interactions with my informants and friends, as well as a variety of other data about them, to argue that their understanding of ‘friendship’ is striking, not in that it permits an individualistic freedom in relationships, but in its elastic assumption that roles are performances. Not only was I, in the field, enacting friendship for ulterior research motives, but my informants, too, were likewise ‘performing friendship.’ Performing friendship was all there was to do.


Albert Joosse

In the Athens of the fourth century bce we find a new conceptualization of friendship. This conceptualization has been made possible by a new understanding of wisdom. The most influential statement of the new view is found in the Platonic dialogue Alcibiades i.

The way for the central role of wisdom in this picture has been paved by larger cultural changes. In order to provide a suitable context for an intellectualist understanding of wisdom and for the emergence of the new model of friendship, the first section of this paper describes earlier ways of thinking about relationships, with special attention to the place of wisdom with regard to them.

The new model involves at least three items: two friends and one goal. The two friends are friends in moving towards the goal. Reversely, the goal is part of what constitutes the friendship. This means that the goal is not conceptualized as something extraneous to the friendship, something that serves as an instigating factor, for instance. Rather, it is the essence of the friendship. We shall see how this works in the original form in which the new conceptualization emerged; here the goal is wisdom, which is both the essence of the two friends’ relationship and something that is present or to be realized in each of the friends.