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8 - The Consequential Stranger: Peripheral Relationships across the Life Span

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  02 September 2009

Frieder R. Lang
Affiliation:
Martin Luther-Universität Halle-Wittenburg, Germany
Karen L. Fingerman
Affiliation:
Purdue University, Indiana
Karen L. Fingerman
Affiliation:
Child Development and Family Studies, Purdue University, 1269 Fowler House, West Lafayette, IN 47907-1269
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Summary

Individuals of all ages encounter social partners with whom they are not intimate (e.g., cousins, classmates, neighbors, church members). Peripheral ties arise in daily life. These relationships link individuals to larger social structures and provide opportunities for cultural models, novel stimulation, identity exploration, and social support. In childhood, peripheral partners provide opportunities to acquire skills not available through familiar social contacts. In adolescence and young adulthood, they help individuals define themselves and provide information about the culture. In midlife, a proliferation of close ties provides a larger number of peripheral ties. In late life, peripheral ties may offer support or provide for “social reminiscence.” Discussion addresses the function and meaning of peripheral relationships in comparison to close social ties.

The traffic outside the Henderson Childcare Center at the end of the day is a sight to behold. The lot typically contains only fifteen cars during the day. At 5:00 p.m., a horde of fifty vehicles containing parents descends upon the building. To add to the chaos, there is only one driveway through which cars must both enter and exit. Toyotas park on the sidewalk, Volvo station wagons weave in and out, and inevitably, several Pontiac Grand Ams are locked in their spaces while toddlers find their way from care providers to parents. Yet no one honks. No one shouts. Tempers do not flare. Drivers wait patiently as each vehicle maneuvers back onto the street. These parents are not exceptionally virtuous people.

Type
Chapter
Information
Growing Together
Personal Relationships Across the Life Span
, pp. 183 - 209
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2003

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