With a little help from my friends: relational work in leisure-related enterprising

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The present article analyses the indistinct boundaries between formal and informal economic exchanges, with a focus on friendship and work relations. To illustrate these intersections, we present a study of Swedish lifestyle entrepreneurs who run small-scale horse-related enterprises. The specific characteristics of this form of business—in which the horse farm owners/operators, customers, employees, and voluntary workers share a leisure interest in horses and participate in the everyday work on the farm—provide the foundation for a work environment where personal favour exchanges and a gift economy are intertwined with a monetary economy. Drawing on Viviana Zelizer’s notion of ‘relational work,’ the present analysis focuses on how relationships, transactions, and forms of repayments are constantly negotiated along a continuum between work-oriented friendship and friendly work relations. The empirical illustrations demonstrate the limitations of the notion of boundary work often employed in studies of relational work—which emphasizes boundary definition. In contrast, it seems that relational work may also involve practices that intentionally maintain indistinct boundaries between different types of relationships, thus sustaining tension between a formal and informal economy.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)748–765
Number of pages18
JournalThe Sociological Review
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2016 Apr

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Sociology

Free keywords

  • relational work
  • informal economy
  • gift economy
  • friendship
  • leisure


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