Friendships between people have existed throughout time and among different cultures. Developmental psychologists, social psychologists, and behaviorists, among others, have long been investigating the simple yet complex facets of friendship. The present study is a qualitative report using thematic analysis of an interview on friendship. Braun and Clarke (2006) define thematic analysis as a method of reporting themes in data by distinguishing and evaluating patterns that may be present.
Qualitative research is concerned with meaning rather than with measurement as with quantitative analysis. For this reason, a semi-structured interview with a university student was used to conduct this research as opposed to the collection of numerical data. The aim of this research is to explore friendship from the perspective of a young university student.
The researcher was interested in discovering what friends mean to the participant and what type of friends they like and whether this changed or developed across time. Other qualitative research on friendship includes a study by McAdams and Losoff (1984) who looked at the types of motivation for children to develop friendships in their qualitative research. They conducted a thematic analysis of interviews with schoolchildren as well story telling exercises.
Hays (1984) explored how friendships are developed and maintained. His study focused on the development of a relationship from an acquaintanceship to friendship. In 1985, Hays conducted another study about friendship. This longitudinal study, targeted on undergraduate university students, also focused on how friendship develops through the passage of time.
The formation of friendship in university accommodation was studied by Newcomb in 1961 as well as Priest and Sawyer in 1967 (as cited in Nahemow and Lawton, 1975, p. 206). Both researches discovered that stronger ties were developed amongst students who lived in close proximities and had similar attitudes. Graham and Cohen (1997) examined the roles of sex and race in the development of peer relationships. They were interested in discovering how the involvement of sex as well as the ethnic background played a part in how socially acceptable these children by their peers.
Duck (1991) suggests that generally research on friendships has indicated individuals choose friends who are alike and comparable to themselves on the grounds of race/ethnicity, age, and socioeconomic status (as cited in Galupo, 2007, p. 473). A comparative study was conducted by Galupo (2007) to compare the close friendships women make between lesbians and bisexuals. Thematic analysis was used to analyze the interviews the researcher had with the participants. The possible anticipated outcome of the present research is to gain a deeper understanding of the start of a friendship, its developments, and what factors contribute to this.
Study design/ Method Participant: The participant for this study was a female undergraduate student from England. Data elicitation: The data was provided to the researcher by their program leader. The data was derived from one semi-structured interview on the subject of friendship. The data included a 15-minute video of the interview as well as the transcript of the interview. Method of analysis: At first the researcher read the transcript three times to familiarize themselves with the content. Next the researcher began their initial stage of coding.
After this, they played the video and watched the interview once. Next, the replayed the video and read the transcript simultaneously. They repeated this step, however, they began more coding at this stage. At the stage of initial coding, the researcher began to see some themes forming so they took note of these initial themes. After several readings and more coding, the themes developed more specifically. Some initial themes may have had good basis but were too broad and mostly consisted of one word. After scrutinizing the text and a break period, more specific themes began to form.
The theme of culture ties into this as Shazia and her friends seem to share their cultures and languages with no inhibitions. Shazia’s childhood friend Eva, who is from a different culture and has a different first language, becomes friends with her in spite of the differences in their backgrounds. The two maintain their relationship for years as they both live in the same town. Newcomb’s 1961 study supports the view that physical proximity is important in the development of friendship (as cited in Nahemow and Lawton, 1975, p. 206). The sharing of gender also seemed to play a role in Shazia’s choice of friends.
It was revealed through her interview that her intimate friends consisted of females rather than males. This is consistent with Graham and Cohen’s (1997) study that analyzed children’s preference of friends based on race and sex. They discovered that regardless of race, more children preferred to have same-sex friendships than cross-sex friendships (Graham & Cohen 1997). While analyzing the transcript it was discovered that growing up was an importance part of Shazia’s journey. Although she remains friends with Eva, Shazia moves on to university, creating physical distance between herself and Eva, and starts new friendships.
Shazia and Eva then maintain their friendships by being in touch frequently and paying visits to one another. This also displays the exchange of understanding on their part that such changes are inevitable in a friendship and the efforts are appreciated. Shazia also continues to share activities with both her old friend and new. This again helps her to maintain her friendships. Thematic analysis helped the researcher gain a better insight into the participant’s perspective of friendship. The codes and themes that emerged helped identify what was important to the participant in a friendship and how friendships evolved and grew over time.
Although thematic analysis is a popular tool in qualitative research it has its limitations as well. Because this particular study was conducted as part of the researcher’s coursework the themes were consistent but were the perspective of one researcher. Had more researchers looked at the same data set and analyzed it, perhaps a more comprehensive and balanced outcome would have been produced. Further studies on maintaining a friendship is suggested rather than only the development of friendship. Reflexivity While conducting this research, I found myself to have some similarity with the participant, Shazia, but also several differences.
Like Shazia, I am also from Asian background, living as an expatriate, a university student, and female. The conclusion of the research is something I can identify with. I personally believe that it takes a combination of exchange and sharing to first develop and then to maintain a friendship by remaining in contact and doing activities together. However, Shazia seemed to befriend girls who regardless of their backgrounds had similar interests to hers. While I can understand that on a basic level, I have always been the kind to have friends with a variety of interests and I move from group to group learning and sharing new experiences.
She had one childhood best friend while I always had several close friends from each of the groups I was part of. For this reason, I found it difficult to identify very well with Shazia and when I first read the transcript. Because Shazia and I have very little in common as far as friendship is concerned, I could have assumed her emotions in certain situations, having not have felt them myself. This may have affected the thematic analysis.