Making Friends in Violent Neighborhoods: Strategies among Elementary School Children

Anjanette M. Chan Tack, Mario L. Small

Sociological Science, March 15, 2017
DOI 10.15195/v4.a10



While many studies have examined friendship formation among children in conventional contexts, comparatively fewer have examined how the process is shaped by neighborhood violence. The literature on violence and gangs has identified coping strategies that likely affect friendships, but most children in violent neighborhoods are not gang members, and not all friendship relations involve gangs. We examine the friendship-formation process based on in-depth interviews with 72 students, parents, and teachers in two elementary schools in violent Chicago neighborhoods. All students were African American boys and girls ages 11 to 15. We find that while conventional studies depict friendship formation among children as largely affective in nature, the process among the students we observed was, instead, primarily strategic. The children’s strategies were not singular but heterogeneous and malleable in nature. We identify and document five distinct strategies: protection seeking, avoidance, testing, cultivating questioners, and kin reliance. Girls were as affected as boys were, and they also reported additional preoccupations associated with sexual violence. We discuss implications for theories of friendship formation, violence, and neighborhood effects.

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
Anjanette M. Chan Tack: Department of Sociology, University of Chicago

Mario L. Small: Department of Sociology, Harvard University

Acknowledgements: This research was supported by the MacArthur Foundation, the University of Chicago, the National Opinion Research Center, and Harvard University. We thank Karen Davis and Lara Perez-Felkner for fieldwork, interview work, and other research assistance instrumental to this project and David Harding for comments and criticisms. Direct correspondence to Mario L. Small, 33 Kirkland St, Department of Sociology, Cambridge, MA 02138 or

  • Citation: Chan Tack, Anjanette M., and Mario L. Small. 2017. “Making Friends in Violent Neighborhoods: Strategies among Elementary School Children.” Sociological Science 4: 224-248.
  • Received: January 12, 2017
  • Accepted: February 8, 2017
  • Editors: Jesper B. Sørensen, Gabriel Rossman
  • DOI: 10.15195/v4.a10

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