Summary of “The Waltz of Sociability” Essay

Vered Amit – Talai indulges her readers with a commonly accepted phenomenon of Western civilization in which adolescents rarely transition into adulthood with their childhood friends through the experiences of a group of high school students in The Waltz of Sociability: Intimacy, Dislocation, and Friendship in a Quebec High School. It is assumed that peer relationships developed during adolescence are of considerable importance but only temporary.

The social and cultural ramifications of this assumption are a recurring theme in this article. Amit-Talai takes a more personal approach towards investigating this assumption rather than the typical sociological and anthropological approach which view these temporary relationships merely “as an aspect of life cycle development” (Amit-Talai 233).

Amit-Talai dismantles these ways of thinking by reevaluating four common features associated with high school students teetering upon the precipice of graduation and subsequent adulthood; “(1) that true friendships are private, free-floating relationships; (2) that adolescents have more time for developing such friendships and fewer competing commitments; (3) that friendship takes on a special intensity in adolescence; (4) that adolescent friendships are necessarily transient as a function of life cycle changes” (Amit-Talai 236). The development of friends during adolescence is crucial to one’s social status and general development.

Amit-Talai shows that the time frame in which an adolescent has in his or her day for developing such friends is quite short. The amount of spare time one has due to his or her obligations, the constant social suppression from authoritative figures, the segregation of cohorts, intimacy, and geographical displacement all play a role in the development, transiency, and ferocity of adolescent peer relations. As Amit-Talai points out, and I believe any North American young adult can agree upon this, adolescents are situated in a never ending circle of equiring money from part-time jobs to support their consumerism influenced activities (Amit-Talai 237). In 1987/88, the year Amit-Talai conducted this research, the number of full-time students aged 15-19 in the Quebec workforce was nearing a point in which it would double the numbers recorded in 1975 (Amit-Talai 237). As the area around Royal Haven School was considered to be a “working-class district” (Amit-Talai 236) this statistic does not reflect the situation for any student body of any high school.

In order to participate in social events, buy clothes, put gas in one’s car, and other activities, however; one must have some source of income. Many adolescents also used their wages in order to buy things such as books, school supplies, and other commodities “which their parents would otherwise have been hard-pressed to cover” (Amit-Talai 238). As Amit-Talai states, “the combination of full-time school and part-time work suggests that youth in an industrialized society such as Quebec, probably if anything, have less leisure time than do their counterparts in pre-industrial societies. They may even have less leisure time than their parents. (Amit-Talai 237). Teenagers, therefore, have less free time to develop and maintain peer relationships than one would assume, granting the relationships made at the time of adolescence a much greater likelihood of being temporary. However, this research was conducted in the year of 1987/88 and does not reflect the evolution of technology and social networking that give present day adolescents the tools to easily sustain peer relationships. For the students of Royal Haven School, on the other hand, the only point in one’s day in which one can freely socialize with his or her peers and develop some sort of social status, is at school.

This “highly structured, hierarchical” (Amit-Talai 237) fraction of most teenagers’ weekdays is packed full of condensed lesson plans, assignment, tests, and various other academic coursework leaving only a small portion for student-student interactions. And even when an opportunity for conversing is in sight, an adult in a position of authority is there to say otherwise. “So long as students remained on school property, they were subject to supervision” (Amit Talai 240). Indeed, most teenagers are always being watched while at school.

It seems that the staff of Royal Haven School even frowned upon the aggregation of many students in the cafeteria and would constantly move them along as soon as they were done with their meal, like sheep (Amit-Talai 240). This oppression was occurring for a good reason however, seeing as Royal Haven School had once had a “reputation for being a school with more than its fair share of violence, drugs and troublemakers “cleaned up” by a new principal who had instituted strict controls over student attendance and behavior” (Amit-Talai 240).

Nevertheless, the actions of Royal Haven School’s faculty made the window of opportunity for students to make new friends and interact with their current friends that much smaller. But the teachers of the school faculty were not the only adults suppressing teenage relationships; adolescents’ overprotective parents often intervened in their attempts to rendezvous with fellow school mates.

With the many hours of each week dedicated to schoolwork, work and personal obligations, coordinating a get-together outside of school becomes increasingly difficult for students when they have so much trouble “getting permission to stay out late or sometimes until just after dark” (Amit-Talai 239). Once a friendship has finally been made, maintaining it is a whole different story. In order to be involved in a friendship, there must some level of intimacy involved.

Amit-Talai recognizes Anthony Giddens’ definition of intimacy as “the dislocure of emotions and actions which the individual is unlikely to hold up to a wider public gaze. ” (Amit-Talai 245). This brings us back to Amit-Talai’s first point “that true friendships are private, freefloating relationships” (Amit-Talai 236). Indeed, establishing, managing, and maintaining friends is a tiresome effort for the students of Royal Haven School. Although I agree that the elements that I have described create constraints on the relationships formed during adolescence, I believe this research needs to be extended to cover a larger population.

Amit-Talai only focuses on a working-class district and the research was conducted approximately 25 years ago. The advances that have been made in communication would most certainly challenge the “dislocation of peer relationships” (Amit-Talai 246). The age of email and instant messaging has broken down borders of distance and time. Most importantly, perhaps these relationships described have ended not because of a change in environment and school structure, but a change in self-interests and social desire