a1 Department of Sociology and Social Administration, University of Southampton, England.
In recent years policy initiatives on caring for elderly people have stressed the need for ‘care by the community’: the use of various informal relationships to provide the elderly with more effective forms of care. The present paper analyses the potential of one type of informal relationship – friendship – to act in this way and argues that, despite appearances, friendship is not a particularly suitable basis for care provision. Not only are many elderly people in need of care excluded from the contexts in which friendships are usually generated and serviced, but more importantly the normal exchange basis of friendship is undermined when there is long-term, unilateral provision of care. Similar factors apply to primary carers' friendships. By analysing these issues fully, the paper shows that attempts to incorporate friends into systematic caring is unlikely to be successful. While friends will help in a crisis, in the long run such help is as contradictory to the nature of friendship as it is compatible with it.
* A version of this paper was read to the Vth International Congress of Sicilian Anthropological Studies in November, 1983. I would like to thank Sue Allan and Joan Higgins for their helpful comments on an earlier draft.