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Criminology Honor Cultures and Violence
by
Mark Cooney

Introduction

“Honor” means different things to different people at different times. In modern societies, honor refers primarily to a form of social status that attaches to integrity and sound character. But honor has an older meaning still found among some groups today—a form of social status founded on the willingness and ability to use force. Honor in this second sense can result in two types of violence. The first occurs predominately between men (indeed, honor is often equated with masculinity). An honorable man will not hesitate to use physical force to combat any assault, theft, insult, or other attempt at subordination of himself or his group (family, gang, or nation). For honor, unlike the more stable value of dignity, can be won or lost. Honor rises and falls when one man (or group) publicly challenges the willingness of another to physically defend himself, his intimates, or his property and hence his right to be treated as an equal. To uphold his honor a man need not beat his opponent, but he must display a willingness to fight him. Cultures of honor (those in which actors compete for status based on physical force) are far from uniform, but work by anthropologists, historians, sociologists, criminologists, social psychologists, and others reveals several shared characteristics. One is that honor is a central source of status, which largely explains the apparently trivial causes of many violent conflicts: the issue is not really the taking of a few cents of change but whether one can person disrespect another publicly and get away with it. Honor cultures too are typically antipathetic to law and legal officials: a man must stand up for himself and not rely on others to do so. Traditional honor cultures tend, also, to be highly patriarchal, subordinating women and treating their sexuality as family property. In such cultures, a second type of honor violence may be found—men beating or even killing their female relatives for loss of chastity or other conduct that threatens male rule. These acts of violence committed in the name of family honor likely have a long history in human societies. Today, they are concentrated in predominately Muslim nations and among their emigrants to Western countries. In short, all honor cultures have high rates of violence principally among men; some also have high rates of violence by men against their female relatives.

General Overviews

Honor has attracted a considerable amount of scholarly attention across the social sciences. Peristiany 1966 on Mediterranean societies was an early and influential discussion, describing the principal features of honor cultures. Not long afterwards, Berger, et al. 1973 declared the obsolescence of honor, seeing the culture of dignity as being much more compatible with the social organization of modernity. Stewart 1994 provides perhaps the most comprehensive overview of the concept, drawing in particular on his own fieldwork among the Bedouin of the Sinai Peninsula. Nisbett and Cohen 1996 traces the roots of honor culture to a combination of frontier statelessness and the vulnerability of property in herding economies. Cooney 1998 distinguishes ten characteristics of honor cultures, including their antipathy to legal means of handling conflict. Collins 2008 sees honor as an ideology that is often used to justify bullying or domination by the weak over the strong. Appiah 2010 ponders the swiftness with which entrenched social practices may change once they become uncoupled from the notion of honor. Black 2011 provides perhaps the most incisive overview of honor, emphasizing that the origin and intensity of its conflicts lie in the struggle to establish superiority and avoid inferiority among status equals.

  • Appiah, Kwame Anthony. 2010. The honor code: How moral revolutions happen. New York: W.W. Norton.

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    Reflections on honor and its role in moral revolutions by a philosopher. Analyzes the rapid demise of dueling, the abolition of slavery, and the abandonment of Chinese footbinding in terms of changing notions of personal and group honor broadly defined.

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  • Berger, Peter, Brigitte Berger, and Hansfried Kellner. 1973. On the obsolescence of the concept of honor. In The homeless mind: Modernization and consciousness. Edited by Peter Berger, Brigitte Berger, and Hansfried Kellner, 83–96. New York: Random House.

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    An important statement contrasting the premodern culture of honor with the modern culture of dignity. Has been criticized for underestimating the extent to which honor survives in pockets of the modern world, but remains an essential source.

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  • Black, Donald. 2011. Moral time. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199737147.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A brief but insightful and wide-ranging discussion. Situates honor conflicts within his highly original general theory of conflict (see pp. 71–74).

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  • Collins, Randall. 2008. Violence: A micro-sociological theory. Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ. Press.

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    A contrarian account that argues that honor (and its contemporary cousin, “respect”) is not a mechanism for deterring violence but an ideology for establishing and justifying individual or group dominance. In honor code situations, actors do not simply respond to insults but often actively seek out fights (see pp. 229–235).

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  • Cooney, Mark. 1998. Warriors and peacemakers: How third parties shape violence. New York: New York Univ. Press.

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    Identifies ten characteristics of a culture of honor (chapter 5).

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  • Nisbett, Richard E., and Dov Cohen. 1996. Culture of honor: The psychology of violence in the South. Boulder, CO: Westview.

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    A seminal contribution. Presents empirical evidence of a Southern culture of honor, and proposes that cultures of honor in general are products of frontier herding societies. Scholarly yet accessible to a wide audience.

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  • Peristiany, J. G., ed. 1966. Honour and shame: The values of Mediterranean society. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press.

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    A classic edited volume analyzing the meanings of honor and its place in Mediterranean societies. An excellent starting point for investigating honor culture.

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  • Stewart, Frank Henderson. 1994. Honor. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press.

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    An influential, erudite, yet concise overview of the meanings of the concept of honor among the Bedouin and in Western societies since the Renaissance. Argues that honor is a right to be respected as an equal as long as the holder obeys the rules of the honor code.

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Historical Accounts

Honor occupied a prominent position in the culture of many earlier societies. Many historians now trace high rates of violence to the aggressive masculinity fostered by such cultures of honor. The research forms two main tributaries. One addresses the 19th-century American South, for which Wyatt-Brown 1982 and Ayers 1984 provide excellent detailed overviews. Gorn 1985 analyzes the fighting habits of lower-status Southerners whose free-for-all brawls contrasted sharply with the more restrained and formal duels fought contemporaneously by their higher-status counterparts. The second branch focuses on Europe and the long-term decline in homicide documented for many countries over the past 700 years or so. Spierenburg 2008 provides a comprehensive yet accessible account of the pan-national pattern, stressing the crucial importance of changing conceptions of honor. Pinker 2011 goes further, arguing for a decline in violence of all types in human society in which the deflation of honor has played a significant part. Johnson and Lipsett-Rivera 1998 offers a set of essays that illustrate the effect of Spanish and Portuguese notions of honor on colonial South America. Miller 1990 brings medieval Iceland to life in a scholarly yet readable analysis of that honor-sensitive body of literature known as the sagas. Ikegami 1995 provides a valuable look beyond American and Europe, describing the millennium-long evolution of Japanese notions of honor.

  • Ayers, Edward L. 1984. Vengeance and justice: Crime and punishment in the 19th-century American South. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

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    An insightful survey of various forms of violence and their punishment in the 19th-century South before and after the abolition of slavery. Emphasizes the role of honor in the region’s exceptionally high rates of violence and the leniency with which it was typically handled by prosecutors, judges, and jurors.

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  • Gorn, Elliot J. 1985. “Gouge and bite, pull hair and scratch”: The social significance of fighting in the Southern backcountry. American Historical Review 90.1: 18–43.

    DOI: 10.2307/1860747Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A striking account of the no-holds-barred fighting practiced by lower-status men in the 19th-century American rural South. Tactics used in these rough-and-tumble contests of honor included biting, scratching, kicking, tearing, butting, throwing, and the gouging of eyes. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Ikegami, Eiko. 1995. The taming of the samurai: Honorific individualism and the making of modern Japan. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press.

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    A scholarly account of the slow transformation of the Japanese conception of honor from its roots in samurai violence to its contemporary association with well-mannered yet competitive striving.

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  • Johnson, Lyman L., and Sonya Lipsett-Rivera, eds. 1998. The faces of honor: Sex, shame, and violence in colonial Latin America. Albuquerque: Univ. of New Mexico Press.

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    A collection of essays analyzing Iberian notions of honor in colonial Latin America.

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  • Miller, William Ian. 1990. Bloodtaking and peacemaking: Feud, law, and society in saga Iceland. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press.

    DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226526829.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A learned but accessible account of conflict in a classic honor society.

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  • Pinker, Steven. 2011. The better angels of our nature: Why violence has declined. New York: Viking.

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    An ambitious overview arguing that violence of all types has undergone a long-term decline. One cause is feminization, which helps to deflate the culture of manly honor responsible for so much violence in earlier societies.

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  • Spierenburg, Pieter. 2008. A history of murder: Personal violence in Europe from the Middle Ages to the present. Cambridge, UK: Polity.

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    An authoritative account of the decline of European violence over the past 700 years. Argues that one of the main drivers is not the disappearance of honor but its “spiritualization”—becoming associated with inner virtue rather than outward reputation.

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  • Wyatt-Brown, Bertram. 1982. Southern honor: Ethics and behavior in the Old South. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

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    An elegant and erudite survey of the culture of the 19th-century antebellum American South. Argues that honor was the central organizing principle and largely accounted for the region’s inhabitants’ notoriously quick resort to violence.

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Dueling

Formal duels over matters of honor were regularly fought in Western Europe from the late Middle Ages to the First World War. Dueling was also practiced elsewhere, most notably in the antebellum Southern United States. Fought first with swords and later with pistols, duels were confined to men of the higher social classes. Written codes set out rules to be followed in staging a duel, including the role of assistants or “seconds” to the principals. Good introductory overviews can be found in Williams 1980 for the southern United States and in Holland 2003 for Europe and America, the latter locating dueling’s roots in male competition. Kiernan 1988 is a scholarly analysis of the European duel of honor over time, paying particular attention to England and France. McAleer 1994, Nye 1993, Kelly 1995, and Morgan 1995 are detailed accounts of dueling in Germany, France, Ireland, and Canada, respectively. Schwartz, et al. 1984 seeks to account for Southern dueling from the perspective of economic theory.

Anthropological Accounts

Much ethnography describes an honor culture or aspects thereof. With a focus on the Mediterranean, Peristiany 1966 is perhaps the best-known overview of the subject. Of particular importance are Pitt-Rivers 1966 on honor and social status and the Bourdieu 1966 analysis of the Kabyle of Algeria. Boehm 1984 emphasizes the inseparability of notions of honor and tribal feuding, with specific reference to Montenegro. Aase 2002 presents a more recent series of essays documenting the continuing importance of the concept to understanding violence in certain tribal and modern societies. Barth 1959, Chagnon 2009, and Kiefer 1972 provide excellent ethnographic accounts of honor violence among the Swat Pathans of Pakistan, the Yanomamö of the Amazon rain forest, and the Tausug of the Philippine island of Jolo, respectively.

  • Aase, Tor, ed. 2002. Tournaments of power: Honor and revenge in the contemporary world. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate.

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    Illustrates the enduring role of honor in violent conflict within a diverse set of modern and tribal societies.

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  • Barth, Frederik. 1959. Political leadership among Swat Pathans. London: Athlone.

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    An influential ethnography of a highland Pakistan honor culture.

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  • Boehm, Christopher. 1984. Blood revenge: The enactment and management of conflict in Montenegro and other tribal societies. Lawrence: Univ. of Kansas.

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    A comprehensive account of the role of honor in tribal feuding, with particular reference to Montenegro.

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  • Bourdieu, Pierre. 1966. “The sentiment of honor in Kabyle society.” In Honour and shame: The values of Mediterranean society. Edited by J. G. Peristiany, 193–241. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson.

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    An insightful essay on honor among the Kaybles of Algeria. Honor governs relations between men of equal rank. A man of honor is duty bound to avenge injury or insult to his home, wife, or male relatives.

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  • Chagnon, Napoleon A. 2009. Ya̦nomamö. 5th ed. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.

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    A much-read work that does not employ the concept of honor but yet describes a warlike culture in which men are highly sensitive to insult, project an image of ferocity, and are apt to seek revenge for injury to person and property (first edition, 1968).

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  • Kiefer, Thomas M. 1972. The Tausug: Violence and law in a Philippine Moslem society. New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston.

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    Accessible ethnography of the honor culture of the people of Jolo, a Philippine island.

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  • Peristiany, J. G., ed. 1966. Honour and shame: The values of Mediterranean society. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson.

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    A classic edited volume analyzing the meanings of honor and its place in Mediterranean societies.

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  • Pitt-Rivers, Julian. 1966. Honor and social status. In Honour and shame: The values of Mediterranean society. Edited by J. G. Peristiany, 19–77. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson.

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    A seminal essay that treats honor as a claim to value in the eyes of others. Honor governs relationships among equals and imposes different obligations on men and women. Since “the ultimate vindication of honor lies in physical violence” (p. 29), legal redress cannot suffice.

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Biographical Accounts

Several writers have described honor culture through biography, their own or that of others. Among them is the author of Abbott 1981, which depicts life in high-security American prisons, including the frequent recourse to violence by inmates for respect and reputation. Canada 1995 describes growing up and then working as a teacher in poor New York City neighborhoods governed by a code of honor, that, he argues has become more deadly as guns have replaced earlier weapons (fists, sticks, knives). Shakur 1993 is an account of the kill-or-be-killed logic of Los Angeles gang wars by an enthusiastic participant. Butterfield 1995 traces the lives of four generations of talented African American men of the Bosket family, each of whom was notorious for fighting.

  • Abbott, Jack Henry. 1981. In the belly of the beast: Letters from prison. New York: Vintage.

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    A searing account of the experience of high-security prisons and the unmerciful code by which prisoners must live.

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  • Butterfield, Fox. 1995. All God’s children: The Bosket family and the American tradition of violence. New York: Avon.

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    Telling the story of four generations of men from a single family, describes the migration of the code of honor from frontier, Southern whites to contemporary, urban African Americans. A compelling and informative social history of the nature of, and response to, American violence from the Civil War to the 1990s.

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  • Canada, Geoffrey. 1995. Fist stick knife gun: A personal history of violence in America. Boston: Beacon.

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    A vivid first-person narrative of the rules of conduct on the streets of urban America. Simply and powerfully written. An excellent text for undergraduate classes.

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  • Shakur, Sanyika. 1993. Monster: The autobiography of an L.A. gang member. New York: Penguin.

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    A raw account of the Los Angeles gang wars of the 1970s and 1980s, in which collective honor played a central role. A useful tool for undergraduate teaching.

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Criminological Accounts

Criminologists took up the concept of honor relatively late. Luckenbill 1977 is an early statement, arguing that homicides originate in challenges to reputation or “character contests” in which each party attempts to save or maintain face, usually in the presence of an audience. Based on ethnographic observation in a low-income Latino community in Chicago, Horowitz 1983 provides the first comprehensive description of an honor culture in a modern American context. Kubrin and Weitzer 2003 highlights the role of honor in promoting lethal retaliation for insults and injuries in disadvantaged urban communities. Perhaps the most influential statement is Anderson 1999, whose author is a sociologist: his compelling account of life among the urban poor of Philadelphia drew attention to the existence of a culture of honor (or street culture) alongside a mainstream culture of decency. Stewart and Simons 2010 provides quantitative support for Anderson’s ideas. Brookman, et al. 2011 finds evidence of a similar street code in Britain. Tomsen 1997 and Jacobs and Wright 2006 provide compelling accounts of honor violence in Sydney, Australia, and St. Louis, Missouri, respectively.

  • Anderson, Elijah. 1999. Code of the street: Decency, violence, and the moral life of the inner city. New York: Norton.

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    A highly readable ethnography of life among poor, inner-city African Americans in Philadelphia. Posits the existence of a decent and a street culture. Largely the product of deindustrialization, street culture emphasizes respect based on toughness and evokes considerable amounts of violent conflict. An essential source for students of urban violence.

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  • Brookman, Fiona, Trevor Bennett, Andy Hochstetler, and Heith Copes. 2011. The “code of the street” and the generation of street violence in the UK. European Journal of Criminology 8.1: 17–31.

    DOI: 10.1177/1477370810382259Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A particularly lucid account of the role of street culture in British street violence. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Horowitz, Ruth. 1983. Honor and the American dream: Culture and identity in a Chicano community. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers Univ. Press.

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    Residents of a low-income, Chicago Latino community are influenced both by a code of honor and by a code of conventional achievement. Among young men, honor demands a violent response to insults or other challenges to their personal, family, or gang reputation. A lucid account of honor culture.

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  • Jacobs, Bruce A., and Richard Wright. 2006. Street justice: Retaliation in the criminal underworld. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511816055Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A highly accessible book based on interviews with active street offenders in St. Louis, Missouri who stress the paramount importance of maintaining a reputation for toughness. Includes a chapter on the important but largely neglected topic of honor-based street violence and gender.

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  • Kubrin, Charis E., and Ronald Weitzer. 2003. Retaliatory homicide: Concentrated disadvantage and neighborhood culture. Social Problems 50.2: 157–180.

    DOI: 10.1525/sp.2003.50.2.157Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Quantitative and qualitative data reveal that economically disadvantaged neighborhoods in St. Louis, Missouri, have higher rates of retaliatory homicide. Contains a clear and concise discussion of modern, urban honor culture. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Luckenbill, David F. 1977. Criminal homicide as a situated transaction. Social Problems 25.2: 176–186.

    DOI: 10.2307/800293Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    An influential phenomenology of homicide based on a thematic analysis of case files. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Stewart, Eric A., and Ronald L. Simons. 2010. Race, code of the street, and violent delinquency: A multilevel investigation of neighborhood street culture and individual norms of violence. Criminology 48.2: 569–603.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1745-9125.2010.00196.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Presents a quantitative test supporting Anderson’s claim that neighborhoods with a stronger street culture have higher rates of youth violence. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Tomsen, Stephen. 1997. A top night: Social protest, masculinity and the culture of drinking violence. British Journal of Criminology 37.1: 90–102.

    DOI: 10.1093/oxfordjournals.bjc.a014152Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A vivid ethnographic account of fighting among young working-class night revelers in Sydney, Australia. Emphasizes that much, though not all, violence, is rooted in the creation and maintenance of a tough male identity in the face of insults, challenges, and assaults by patrons and bouncers. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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Masculinity Contests

Some writers trace violence not to honor culture as such but to one of its key characteristics: contests of masculinity. Toch 1969 is an early analysis, emphasizing a variety of goals (e.g., promoting an image of toughness, defending a reputation) that men may seek to accomplish through violence. Daly and Wilson 1988 documents the apparently universal male dominance of violence statistics and explains it in terms of natural selection. Polk 1994 applies similar reasoning to Australian male homicide patterns. Messerschmidt 1993 is a theoretical account of how men accomplish ideals of masculinity through criminal conduct, including violence. Oliver 1994 stresses the role of compulsive masculinity in African American male violence. Bourgois 1995 documents how changing conceptions of masculinity ultimately rooted in developments in the global economy impact violence among inner-city Puerto Ricans in New York City. Mirandé 1997 presents a new index to measure masculinity among Latinos. Wilkinson 2003 places a concern with aggressive masculinity at the heart of her account of violence among young, low-income, minority males.

  • Bourgois, Philippe. 1995. In search of respect: Selling crack in El Barrio. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

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    A compelling ethnographic portrait of drug dealers in East Harlem, New York City. As crack cocaine meets street culture, high rates of assault, rape, and homicide ensue.

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  • Daly, Martin, and Margo Wilson. 1988. Homicide. Chicago: Aldine De Gruyter.

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    An ambitious overview of homicide from an evolutionary psychology perspective. A seminal contribution that emphasizes the link between male competition and lethal violence in human societies.

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  • Messerschmidt, James. 1993. Masculinities and crime: Critique and reconceptualization of theory. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield.

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    An accessible account that highlights the neglected role that creating a masculine image plays in various forms of violent crime.

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  • Mirandé, Alfredo. 1997. Hombres y machos: Masculinity and Latin culture. Boulder, CO: Westview.

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    An overview of the role of machismo in Latino culture. Presents data from interviews with Latinos in California and Texas, most of Mexican ethnicity, which disclose a nuanced conception of masculinity among respondents.

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  • Oliver, William. 1994. The violent social world of black men. New York: Lexington.

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    Addresses an important and largely neglected issue: bar violence. Reports the results of interviews with black men who had been involved in bar fights. Stresses the centrality of obedience to the norms of compulsive masculinity.

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  • Polk, Kenneth. 1994. When men kill: Scenarios of masculine violence. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

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    Analysis of homicide case files from the Australian state of Victoria reveal the central role of male competition for status, dominance, and control. Presents much rich qualitative material.

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  • Toch, Hans. 1969. Violent men: An inquiry into the psychology of violence. Chicago: Aldine.

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    Based on interviews with offenders and victims, presents a typology of violence-prone men. Several types of violent personalities are motivated primarily by establishing and maintaining a reputation for toughness.

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  • Wilkinson, Deanna L. 2003. Guns, violence, and identity among African American and Latino youth. New York: LFP Scholarly.

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    Presents data from in-depth interviews with young, minority men in two high-violence New York City neighborhoods. In the absence of conventional sources of status, the pursuit of prestige based on a reputation for toughness looms large. Combines vivid qualitative description and rigorous multivariate quantitative analysis.

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The Southern Subculture of Honor

The South has long been known for high rates of violence. Wyatt-Brown 1982 and Ayers 1984 provide excellent historical overviews of the prevalence of multiple forms of violence (e.g., brawling, dueling, lynching) in the 19th century. Two principal theories vie to explain the persistence of elevated rates of Southern violence, as evidenced particularly by contemporary homicide data: economic (poverty) and cultural theory. The most developed cultural explanation is that proposed in Nisbett and Cohen 1996, which holds that the herding economy of the region’s Scotch-Irish settlers fostered a code of honor still evident today among white men, especially in rural areas. Several scholars have tested the existence of a Southern culture of honor, using a variety of data and methods. Results are mixed. Baller, et al. 2009 and Grosjean 2011 report evidence of a continuing effect of the Scotch-Irish herding economy on contemporary homicide rates. Lee, et al. 2007 finds that white, argument-based homicides are higher not just in Southern counties but, more crucially, in non-Southern counties with greater percentages of residents born in the South. However, D’Andrade 2002 uncovers no evidence that Southern students are more approving of violence to punish insults than their counterparts elsewhere in the country, and Felson and Pare 2010 proposes that the South’s high homicide rate is a product not of an honor culture but a gun culture.

  • Ayers, Edward L. 1984. Vengeance and justice: Crime and punishment in the 19th-century American South. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

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    A detailed and insightful analysis of the culture of honor, including its relationship to slavery, and the concomitant tolerance of violence across the 19th-century American South. Required reading for those concerned with the historical background.

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  • Baller, Robert D., Matthew P. Zevenbergen, and Steven F. Messner. 2009. The heritage of herding and Southern homicide: Examining the ecological foundations of the code of honor thesis. Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency 46.3: 275–300.

    DOI: 10.1177/0022427809335164Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A research paper reporting that Southern counties that had more Scotch-Irish settlers and herding in 1850 have higher contemporary rates of white, argument-related male homicide. An important source on the long-term underpinnings of honor culture. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • D’Andrade, Roy. 2002. Violence without honor in the American South. In Tournaments of power: Honor and revenge in the contemporary world. Edited by Tor Aase, 61–77. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate.

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    A survey of students disclosing little evidence that attitudes toward violence in response to insult varies by region of the country. Suggests that while Southerners may respond more aggressively to insult, they no longer have a culture of honor.

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  • Felson, Richard B., and Paul-Philippe Pare. 2010. Gun cultures or honor cultures? Explaining regional and race differences in weapon carrying. Social Forces 88.3: 1357–1378.

    DOI: 10.1353/sof.0.0310Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Data from the National Survey of Violence against Women indicate that Southerners are more likely to carry guns, but not other weapons, than people elsewhere in the country. Suggests that this may explain a finding of several previous studies: that the South has higher rates of lethal, but not nonlethal, violence. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Grosjean, Pauline. 2011. A history of violence: The culture of honor as a determinant of homicide in the U.S. South. Sydney: Australian School of Business, Univ. of New South Wales.

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    A detailed quantitative study using several new measures of Scotch-Irish settler herding culture that reveals its lingering (though dwindling) effects on contemporary rates of Southern, white, acquaintance homicide rates. An essential source for assessing the empirical status of the thesis.

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  • Lee, Matthew R., William B. Bankston, Timothy C. Hayes, and Shaun A. Thomas. 2007. Revisiting the Southern culture of violence. Sociological Quarterly 48:253–275.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1533-8525.2007.00078.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A research report analyzing homicide rates in a national sample of counties. An important source for those interested in exploring the possible effects of Southern culture beyond the South. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Nisbett, Richard E., and Dov Cohen. 1996. Culture of honor: The psychology of violence in the South. Boulder, CO: Westview.

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    The definitive analysis of the Southern culture of honor to date. Presents empirical evidence of a Southern culture of honor and develops an ecological explanation of honor cultures in general. Scholarly yet accessible to a wider audience.

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  • Wyatt-Brown, Bertram. 1982. Southern honor: Ethics and behavior in the Old South. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

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    An ambitious scholarly reinterpretation of antebellum Southern culture, placing honor at its center.

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The Nisbett-Cohen Thesis

The Nisbett and Cohen 1996 thesis traces honor culture to frontier herding economies. The authors illustrate their argument with particular reference to violence among rural white men in the American South. One line of research has applied, extended, and tested their thesis in a variety of ways. Particularly noteworthy has been the empirical work of Cohen and Vandello. In a series of papers, these authors have presented an impressive array of evidence, experimental and other. Cohen, et al. 1999 investigates the connection between Southern norms of politeness and violence. Vandello, et al. 2008 tackles the issue of the culture’s continued existence even after the South’s frontier herding economy has long disappeared. Vandello and Cohen 2003 and Osterman and Brown 2011 provide important extensions of the thesis, the former to male-female violence, the latter to suicide. Grosjean 2011 tests the thesis across contemporary Southern counties and reports largely supportive results. Two cross-cultural studies provide empirical support, though not unqualified in nature: Figueredo, et al. 2004 and Moritz 2008 (see also The Southern Subculture of Honor),

Family Honor

Some honor violence is committed in order to restore the honor or social standing of a family following deviance from within, especially breaches of chastity by a female member. The violence may be directed against the male partner but more often targets the woman. The literature consists mainly of accounts and analyses of individual cases. Welchman and Hossain 2005 contains a series of scholarly essays on diverse aspects of honor violence in a variety of countries. Van Eck 2003 draws primarily on court records to analyze honor killings among Dutch Turks. Wikan 2008 employs the 2002 killing of Fadime Sahindal in Sweden as a basis for investigating the notion of family honor and efforts to combat it more generally. Husseini 2009 provides a readable overview of honor killings around the world and describes the author’s own role as an activist in Jordan seeking to eliminate the practice. The most recent general account is Pope 2012, which surveys honor killing across the globe in a nontechnical manner. Ginat 1997 documents a series of killings among rural Arabs and Bedouin in Israel. In addition, the author provides valuable data on the much larger set of cases in which resolutions short of homicide are reached. Most family honor violence today occurs among Muslims, yet the role of Muslim culture is a matter of controversy, an issue addressed from different perspectives by Chesler 2010 and Abu-Lughoud 2011.

  • Abu-Lughoud, Lila. 2011. Seductions of the “honor crime.” Differences: A Journal of Feminist Cultural Studies 22.1: 17–63.

    DOI: 10.1215/10407391-1218238Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Critically reviews the politics of honor crime, arguing that women are not killed because their families adhere to timeless Islamic culture but because of a complex configuration of local, national, and international beliefs, practices, and policies. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Chesler, Phyllis. 2010. Worldwide trends in honor killings. Middle East Quarterly 17.2: 3–11.

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    A brief and accessible statistical analysis of 230 honor killings committed in twenty-nine countries or territories reported in English-language media worldwide.

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  • Ginat, Joseph. 1997. Blood revenge: Family honor, mediation, and outcasting. 2d ed. Brighton, UK: Sussex Academic Press.

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    Presents detailed case histories of honor conflicts that did and did not result in killing. A highly valuable resource (chapter 5).

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  • Husseini, Rana. 2009. Murder in the name of honor: The true story of one woman’s heroic fight against an unbelievable crime. Oxford: Oneworld.

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    A detailed description by a journalist of honor killing, with particular reference to her native Jordan. Describes the author’s involvement in social movements designed to highlight and reduce honor violence, especially through changes in the law. A useful source for the general public and scholars alike.

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  • Pope, Nicole. 2012. Honor killings in the twenty-first century. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

    DOI: 10.1057/9781137012661Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A comprehensive and accessible account of the killing of women (and sometimes men) in the name of family honor around the world today by an American journalist long resident in Turkey. Pays particular attention to activist efforts to combat honor killing.

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  • Van Eck, Clementine. 2003. Purified by blood: Honour killings amongst Turks in the Netherlands. Amsterdam: Amsterdam Univ. Press.

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    Discusses the link between family honor and female chastity (namus) among Dutch Turks, reviews factors that enhance the likelihood that an honor offense will result in lethal violence, and describes behavioral patterns in honor killing. Remains an essential source.

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  • Welchman, Lynn, and Sara Hossain, eds. 2005. “Honour”: Crimes, paradigms, and violence against women. London: Zed.

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    A broad-ranging series of empirical, legal, and normative essays on honor violence against women in the Middle East, southern Asia, North Africa, and Europe.

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  • Wikan, Unni. 2008. In honor of Fadime: Murder and shame. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press.

    DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226896908.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A highly readable overview of family honor violence, with particular reference to the slaying of Fadime Sahindal, a Swedish Kurd, in Uppsala, Sweden, in 2002 and the subsequent trial and conviction of her father for the killing (revised and extended version of For ærens skyld: Fadime til ettertanke. Oslo, Norway: Universitetsforlaget, 2003).

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LAST MODIFIED: 06/25/2013

DOI: 10.1093/OBO/9780195396607-0160

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