Honor culture and honor violence

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An "honor culture" or a "culture of honor" typically occurs when the state (more specifically, government criminal justice/government defense) is ineffective and individuals and groups must punish criminals/aggressors themselves. In such circumstances, it is very important for persons and groups to have good reputations as effective defenders and as trustworthy allies/partners. This may cause aggressive behaviors, in order to defend one's honor, which may increase the risk of violence.

The area where the police is ineffective need not be a whole country, but may be limited to a local city area, controlled by local criminal gangs.

The terms "honor violence" and "honor killings" somewhat confusingly typically do not refer to honor related violence or killings in general, but typically refer to certain forms of violence and killings directed primarily at female relatives in certain honor cultures.

Herding and honor culture

Societies dominated by herding of animals have been argued to often be honor cultures. This since animals are easy to steal and a reputation as a good defender may prevent this. An often mentioned and studied example is the Southern United States, which is argued to frequently have been settled by herders from Scotland/Ireland. This has been argued to explain a higher frequency of violence related to honor among Whites in the Southern United States, as well as various other regional differences regarding attitudes and behaviors.

One example of a non-violence difference is a study finding somewhat more accidental deaths among Whites in "honor states", which could be due to placing more importance on demonstrating toughness and bravery.[1]

Some studies have instead found support for variants or expansions of the theory. For example, a 2014 study argued that the honor culture was only transmitted to the Southern United States because institutional quality was low there. The interpretation was that the Scots-Irish culture of honor prevailed and persisted as an adaptive behavior to weak institutions. The honor culture is argued to have been diminishing as institutional quality has improved.[2]

There have also been various criticisms of the theory or aspects of it as applied to the US or the world more generally. For example, studies in 2013 stated that honor culture was strongly associated with homicides across nations, but that herding was not.[3][4]

Honor violence and honor killings

The terms "honor violence" and "honor killings" somewhat confusingly typically do not refer to honor related violence or killings in general, but typically refer to certain forms of violence and killings directed primarily at female relatives in certain honor cultures. They typically occur after behaviors related to unapproved sexuality by the female relatives and that are considered to bring dishonor or other damage to a related group. While common in some Islamic ethnicities, these crimes also occur in non-Islamic ethnicities. They may be particularly common in societies where the family, the clan, and the tribe are of fundamental importance and where a person's prospects and value are largely determined by the power and reputation of the related group. In order to preserve and increase the related group's power and reputation, it is very important to control reproduction and the inheritance of resources. Honor violence can be seen as one method for achieving this.

Another method is arranged/forced marriages and in particular the common practice of cousin marriages or similar marriages, which causes the resources to remain within the related group. Other possible examples are female genital mutilation and restrictive female clothing (like the niqab and the burqa) in order to prevent unapproved relations.

Honor violence may in some cases be directed at male relatives. It may also be directed at homosexuals/suspected homosexuals or at individuals who were expected to defend the group's honor, but did not do so. The terms honor violence and honor killings often (and confusingly) do not include violence between groups, even if this violence is related to honor disputes.

Actual honor killings, instead of non-lethal honor violence, are puzzling from a resource maximizing or a evolutionary perspective, since the killed woman no longer can contribute to the related group's resources, which should weaken it. However, it has been argued that such killings may serve as a warning to other group members, restore lost honor in the society, and prevent complications from possibly not genetically related children being born. Such explanations have been criticized, by arguing that less severe violence likely would achieve similar results, and honor killings have been argued to usually be maladaptive overreactions (again, from the viewpoint of maximizing the resources and reputation of the related group).[5]

"Sanctioned" rapes

In for example India, retaliatory rapes or gang rapes of a perceived female offender, or of a female relative of a perceived male offender, may be ordered by village councils, as a way of restoring the offended family's honor. The rape is shameful, which causes the victim and her family not to speak about the crime or seek justice. Furthermore, many might not see the point with seeking justice, since it is perceived that the raped woman's honor cannot be restored.[6]

Possible genetic contributions

For example the book A Troublesome Inheritance: Genes, Race and Human History has proposed that different human groups may have genetic differences that contributes to differences regarding characteristics such as aggressiveness, degree of trust in other people and groups, and degree of tribalism.

Surveys of immigrants

In 2006, a poll found that one in 10 British Asians (Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, and Christians) said they would condone the murder of someone who disrespected their family's honor.[7] In 2009 the police believed that there may be as many as 12 honor killings in the UK every year.[8]

See also Islamization and anti-Islamization: Opinion surveys of Muslims.

See also


  1. Accidental Deaths Higher in Most Honorable States. August 15, 2011 08:00am ET . LiveScience. http://www.livescience.com/15557-accidental-deaths-honorable-states.html
  2. Grosjean, Pauline. "A history of violence: The culture of honor and homicide in the US South." Journal of the European Economic Association 12.5 (2014): 1285-1316. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/jeea.12096/abstract
  3. Irshad Altheimer. Herding and Homicide Across Nations. Homicide Studies February 2013 vol. 17 no. 1 27-58. http://hsx.sagepub.com/content/17/1/27.abstract
  4. Irshad Altheimer. Cultural Processes and Homicide Across Nations. Int J Offender Ther Comp Criminol July 2013 vol. 57 no. 7 842-863 . http://ijo.sagepub.com/content/57/7/842
  5. Goldstein, M. A. (2002). "The biological roots of heat-of-passion crimes and honor killings". Politics and the life sciences : the journal of the Association for Politics and the Life Sciences 21 (2): 28–37. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16859346
  6. How India’s Honor Culture Perpetuates Mass Rape. 07.14.14. The Daily Beast. http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2014/07/14/how-india-s-honor-culture-perpetuates-mass-rape.html
  7. "One in 10 'backs honor killings'". BBC News. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/5311244.stm
  8. <Honour killings in the UK. BBC. http://web.archive.org/web/20090106224426/http://www.bbc.co.uk/ethics/honourcrimes/crimesofhonour_2.shtml