We feel we are making good progress with the data collection process. Last term we worked with one school and we have just finishing working with our second. As we conduct our research in diverse settings it feels as if we are gazing though a social kaleidoscope. It has become clear just how important and universal friendship is, binding individuals to the communities in which they live, to their past experiences and influencing how they think about their futures. It is also highly complex, being for the most part positive, but at times fraught with tensions. We have now completed 34 interviews with a total of 58 children in the Year 4 classes and 33 interviews with parents and we are also building up our interviews with teachers, heads and school governors.
Working with the children has been enjoyable as well as incredibly thought provoking. During interviews they have discussed the qualities they look for in a good friend: kindness, helpfulness, humour, and warmth; someone they have fun with and can share things with. They also generally seemed to accept cultural diversity as natural and commonplace. The children were aware of and spoke about various types of ‘difference’, in ways familiar and unfamiliar to adults. They discussed social difference in terms of houses and possessions, as well as differences in terms of religion, gender and the ease with which school work was managed. ‘Difference’ and ‘similarity’ to the children were also about what games and activities were enjoyed by others, about favourite things, and about physical characteristics such as height, skin colour and length of hair.
In the same way, parents and carers have been speaking about friendship in superdiverse settings. For most parents we have spoken with, school is an important source of adult contact, although this varied, with some parents’ relationships remaining at the level of exchanging greetings, whilst others making solid friendships. It has been encouraging to meet some parents/carers who are particularly involved in bringing others from different backgrounds together, by introducing people, volunteering in school events and arranging social events. Thus far, we have found examples of friendships between those of different ethnicities. However, we have found fewer examples of friendships between those with different social class backgrounds.
Although we still have plenty of fieldwork to go, we have started to immerse ourselves in the data we have already collected and are planning future conferences. Carol and Sarah were excited to be in Istanbul recently were they presented some preliminary findings at the European Conference of Educational Research. This presentation was titled ‘Social Cohesion, Primary Schools and Diversity: Friendships across Social Class and Ethnic Difference’. We are thus beginning to share some of the dynamic, complex patterns around friendship which we have been observing though our social kaleidoscope. We are also preparing to present at upcoming conferences across different disciplines, including the British Sociological Association, the American Education Research Association, the Royal Geographic Society, and the Institute of Superdiversity. We hope to see some of you there!