Working Paper 86

Friendship Groups in Leisure Time in Bulgaria: examples from the socialist and postsocialist period

Milena Benovska-Sabkova

Department ‘Resilience and Transformation in Eurasia’

Year of publication

Number of pages

Working Paper 86

The main objective of the paper is the investigation of leisure time friendship groups in Bulgaria, mainly during the second half of the 20th century. The specific goals are first, to establish a typology and to analyse the functioning of these friendship groups in Sofia and amongst the educated strata, focused in the context, first, of hiking, and second, of making merry in a restaurant; second, to make a comparison between the two types of groups in view of the transformation of the social and interpersonal relations since the mid-20th century. The very activity of the mountaineering groups creates a context, which largely determines their functioning. In this case the context includes the wild natural environment, and this prompts specific requirements on the behaviour and activity of the hikers associated with their safety. Practical requirements of immediate solidarity on the mountain determine the development of friendship as an after-effect of the group’s functioning. The predominant principle for structuring of the friendship groups of hikers is inclusion. The groups called ‘groups for fun’ here are presented not so much as an object of an independent investigation than as a possibility for comparing them to the mountaineering groups. The two specific groups for fun investigated here belong to different strata of Bulgarian society (one of them clearly belongs to the new emerging middle class and the other consists of rather poor pensioners). Both differ substantially from those of the mountaineering groups. This difference offers the opportunity of tracing how social, economic and status differences reflect on the structure and the functional and cultural expressions of the groups. Unlike the groups of hikers, pragmatic aspects are absent in the activities and interaction among members of the ‘groups for fun’. Their members invest time and means not in the context, but in ‘the pure relationship’. The emotional aspect of the friendship is much stronger than among the hikers. This logically finds expression in the more explicit group identity too, as demonstrated in the self-naming of the groups, established routine practices, as well as rituals and even special emblems. The different socio-class characteristics of the friendship groups presented here show that the informal units function at various levels of the social hierarchy in the country: both in (the almost) elitist environment and in differing segments of the non-elite strata. Though seemingly paradoxical, the friendship groups are at one and the same time both evidence of the development of individualism as a life strategy, but also a means of development of personal and collective social capital.

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