Re: Culture of honour

From: Andy Blunden (
Date: Tue Jan 06 2004 - 18:49:04 PST


I have had a little to do with the concept of 'honour' in my recent
readings of Hegel and various interpreters. One of the things in this
reading is that to the modern ears 'honour' is an outmoded and destructive
feeling. It has its origins however in very material conditions and
life-threatening attacks. We here in Australia, as in Sweden, don't think
very much in terms of 'honour' because the implications of an insult to our
honour are pretty slight; we're not going to die if our son becomes a
right-wing politician. Codes of honour, as I see it, have their origin in
fairly fragile social conditions where a single apparently small slight to
one's honour threatens to unravel, so to speak, one's whole way of life. If
you don't rectify the insult by immediate and total revenge, for example,
then you expose yourself to elimination as a person worthy of life itself -
like a wounded animal that is devoured by its own kin.

I think that while obviously protecting 110% the victims of such vendettas,
one has to look at the underlying causes for the continuation of this
feeling of fragility. Going beyond 'honour', I suppose, means understanding
that even if you don't prove to everyone that you are willing to die for
your belief, no great disaster will befall you.


At 11:58 PM 6/01/2004 +0100, you wrote:
>Thanks you Mike,
>you are putting words on my thoughts and you are right on what I am looking
>for. The "problem" is that in Sweden we have been trained to be equal. We
>have not been in war for over 100 of years. Our military is a defensive
>force. We try to avoid using the concept of honour, even if it exist as a
>personal one and in the upper classes. Our minister of Immigration Mona
>Sahlin said 4 years ago that the culture of honour does not exist in Sweden
>and the use of that expression was to focus negative on immigrant cultures
>and could lead to racism. In Sweden we should pay our "tribune" to the
>state, the "good father" who take care of us, not to the family, culture
>group or gang.
>After the murder of Fadime Sahindals 2 years ago, who months before her
>death talked to the Swedish government that she and other girls was
>threatened to death of their fathers, the minister (and the government)
>change her mind and said that the culture of honour exist in Sweden. And
>Sweden have to do something about it. I have found no research about honour
>in Sweden, but we have some now who have started to look at "honour murder"
>towards girls. But they do not connect it to history and activity. I will
>try to look up Shweder and I am happy for all your help.
>Den 04-01-06 23.21, skrev "Mike Cole" <>:
> > very important questions, Hans.
> >
> > I think the term, "culture" is being used in a variety of ways even in your
> > discussion, never mind when we add in all those who have commented. To
> > label something " a culture of x" is perfectly acceptable english ("A
> culture
> > of narcissism" for example) but from my perspective (there is no CHAT
> > orthodoxy on much of anything except to consider culture, history, and
> > activity when theorizing human behavior!) one has to consider, a la the
> > intro to lave and wenger, the practices which sustain particular behaviors.
> > Or perhaps, following the lead of Shweder and friends in the 1998 Handbook
> > of Child Psych article on cultural psychology, a unit such as "custom
> complex"
> > might be useful.
> >
> > Do you have the equivalent of our military academies in Sweden? I would
> > venture that there is some form of a "culture of honor" in such
> institutions,
> > along with cultures of nationalism, obedience to authority, chauvanisms of
> > various kinds, etc., if one wants to use that terminology. In such cases,
> > we know pretty well what sustains such values (note how i slip in that term
> > in place of culture?). I would be looking to good ethnographies of the
> people
> > you are interested in, both in their home countries and in diaspora, to
> > understand the behaviors from the inside well enough so that they make
> > sense to you, even if you disapprove. Again, Shweder is a good example
> > of an anthropologist who insists on understanding why and how various
> > behaviors that "we" (whoever we might be) abhor (stoning a woman for
> > infidelity, for example) can be strongly supported by people who are no
> > better or worse than you or me or anyone we know. You may not agree with
> > the way of thinking, but you will come away having been challenged to
> > think.
> > mike
> >

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