Re: Culture of honour

From: Hans Knutagrd (
Date: Wed Jan 07 2004 - 11:54:55 PST

Thank you Eugene,

For your interesting points. They are worth more than 0.2 cents (an
expression we never use in Sweden). Some small comments.

1. Yes I will try to do interviews with the young people exposed to
violence. But your and Lois idea about interviewing other people about the
notion culture of honour is good. I will include that.
2. The type of culture of honour I am trying to study is not the personal
honour and so, it is more the notion of honour and shame (as you pointed
out) that makes the father or a brother of a family to have strict control
of the daughter/sister and if she lose her virginity they have the right to
kill her to regain their family honour. The form of culture of honour is the
one where people out of the notion honour/shame control other people and
have the right to act violently to re-establish the insult of wrong action.
It has become visible in Sweden especially with the girls in school which
are not aloud to have gymnastics, do swimming, talk to boys etc. They are
controlled by their brothers, relatives in schools. They get beaten up by
their parents because they have ³dishonoured² the family living as Swedish
girls does. Since my research is about young people being homosexual in
these families the question is more difficult in many aspects. Still a lot
of young people have a problem ³coming out² in front of there family. Some
of these young boys/girls have been forced to arranged marriages under the
age of 18 (which is not allowed any longer). So the result becomes suicide
or being thrown out of the group in the worst case killed themselves. I hope
it is more clear what kind of culture of honour I am talking about.
3. I like your idea of describing culture. If culture is an important notion
in the culturalhistorical activitytheory maybe that would be a challenges
for this e-group to find out a CHAT version of culture that we could use,
not having to look at other disciplines. Having followed a lot of other
discussions at this group, a discussion trying to define the notion culture
out of CHAT would be extremely interesting!
4. I like your comparison with Soviet. I have travelled a little in the
former East European countries and in Slovakia at the University in
Bratislava I recognized the cheating in the social science groups, writing
at the desks. I even took a photo of it since it did not match with the
Swedish concept of being honest (as you wrote). Eugene you have given me a
lot of inspiring thoughts.

For now / Hans

Den 04-01-07 18.15, skrev "Eugene Matusov" <>:

> Dear Hans and everybody­
> Thanks a lot, Hans, for bringing this important issue to the XMCA forum!
> I want to add my 0.2 cents to the discussion.
> 1) I really like Lois¹ suggestion of interviewing people in Sweden from
> diverse communities about meaning of honor for them and their community. There
> are many reasons why I like it but one of them is because the interviews can
> define diverse ³cultural models² (Strauss & Quinn, 1997) that people use in
> diverse communities (this would probably redefine plurality of the term
> ³cultures of honor²). D¹Andrare (1995, p.151) defined cultural model as
> consisting ³of an interrelated set of elements which fit together to represent
> something.² ³Typically, one uses a model to reason with or calculate from by
> mentally manipulating the parts of the model in order to solve some problem.²
> 2) I¹m not sure I fully understand what ³culture of honor² means. Does it
> simply refer to cultures and communities that highly value and use the
> notion(s) of honor? Do I miss something?
> 3) The notion (and practice) of honor is ethnicity, class, history, and
> gender ³colored² (of course, the list of ³colors² for the notion of honor is
> not exhausted here). The codex of honor (and its application) of Japanese
> samurai in the centaury is not the same as the codex of honor French male
> aristocrat living in post-Napoleon Paris in the early 19th century after the
> restoration of monarchy. It is different in both what was considered to be
> honorable and dishonorable, what normative consequences had to be involved,
> who and how involved in the acts of (dis)honor and their praising and
> punishments, who and how discussed the notion of honor and their applications,
> and so on.
> 4) James Clifford, a cultural anthropologist from my alma mater UCSC,
> defines ³culture² as ³collectively constructed differences². Similarly,
> Bakhtin argued that culture does not have inner territory and exists only on
> the boundaries. I think that it is very fruitfully to study ³cultures of
> honor² on the boundaries of diverse communities and participants with
> different constructions and participants in it. For example, often when people
> talk about honor they have in mind the notion that is valued by male
> participants of a given community forgetting that females also may have their
> own version of honor concept. In Russian language, there are many rooted
> idioms and statements involving ³maiden honor² (³devichya chest¹²), which
> seemed to have different connotation (if not meaning) for male versus female
> members of the community (age and family status was also important). Even
> within one community, there can be a rather complex co-existence (and even
> co-dependence in some cases) of different codex of honor and honor practices.
> Lois¹ methodological suggestion of interviewing people from diverse
> communities (and within the communities) can help to reveal this complexity.
> 5) The notion of honor seems to have its ³twin² notions like ³dishonor²
> and ³shame². It is interesting to explore the relationship between them (it is
> well-known that in many current and past Japanese communities the notion and
> value of shame is highly important).
> 6) It is very important to be aware that we, researchers, are not outside
> of the notion of honor but inside of it. I mean we all biased (which means
> that we are not dead yet J). My ³wild but educated² J guess is that many of
> us, xmca-ers, coming from communities that do not value the notion of honor
> very highly (sorry, if I¹m wrong about YOU ­ please say so, it will be very
> interesting for me to learn more). Instead of thinking how to eliminate
> ³culture of honor², it may be useful to explore dialogic boundaries between
> communities (again back to Lois¹ suggestion!) highly valuing the notion of
> honor and communities that do not value it (and found even dangerous). For
> example, reading Lubrano (2004), a person who crossed the boundary of
> Italian-decent working and middle-class in US, makes me think that US working
> class highly values the notion of honor that involves peer, family, and
> neighborhood solidarity (at least among males but even beyond), opposition to
> bosses, and direct forceful dealing with the conflicts. Interviewing more than
> 100 people who crossed class boundaries, Lubrano documented that many working
> class people see middle class folks as cowardish, manipulative, dishonored,
> conformist, and egoistically self-centered while middle-class folks often see
> working class people as violent, irrational, dangerous, emotionally out of
> control, and self-destructing. My personal encounter with middle-class
> university culture makes me very ³amazed² how the notion of honor is
> constructed in such notions like ³honor classes² (i.e., classes for students
> with better grades ­ tracking) or ³honor conduct² (i.e., not cheating on the
> exams). Raised in the Soviet Union in a family of Soviet intelligencia, I
> can¹t understand what is honorable in ³honor classes² or in not cheating on
> exams. Ironically, helping your classmates to cheat is still considered to be
> highly honorable in Russia, even now. Last year when we visited Russia, my son
> who was raised mainly in US was appalled to see how openly Russian
> undergraduate students prepared themselves for cheating. We visited my former
> college and he saw a group of students in a hallway helping each other to hide
> cheat-notes (³shpory² in Russian) and loudly discussing strategies how they
> would fool their professor. My son commented that this open, loud discussion
> just next to the class door where exam was taken would be impossible in US.
> While it is ³honorable² in US, it is highly dishonorable to report on (or just
> not help) a fellow student cheating on an exam.
> In this sense, working class honor ethics staying in opposition to official
> institutional power is much closer to where I came from. I remember my
> internal conflict involving honor when I was in 7th grade. My math teacher
> whom I respected a lot and who changed my life in many ways, caught my fellow
> classmate (not my friend) copying my homework just before her lesson. She was
> very upset with me because she had high personal trust in me (she spent her
> extra time teaching me math at higher level and did other good things). She
> told me how destructive my ³help² to this student was because it prevented her
> from diagnosing the problem in the student. She continued that if I was
> serious in helping this student I should teach him math rather than giving my
> homework. I was very upset as well, torn between my personal respect and
> loyalty to the math teacher (I was not loyal to the classmate at all!) and her
> very convincing reasoning on the one hand, and honor and fear of dishonorable
> behavior, on the other hand. At the end, honor won ­ I kept willingly giving
> my homework to copy to my classmatesŠ By the way, dishonorable behavior like
> reporting on peers to teachers was severely socially and physically punished
> not only by peers but also by teachers (they did it indirectly and much later,
> long after incidents). Working as a teacher in the Soviet Union I learned well
> about that. Soviet teachers did not like kids who reported on other kids. I
> think historical memory of Stalinist repressions imprinted in many Soviet
> people that reporting to authorities is highly dishonorable behavior and
> dangerous for them and for the community.
> 7) I think it is important to study mediated networks of practices that
> support or inhibit the notion of honor is a community. For example, in US I
> noticed that many middle class parents tell their boys (I do not know much
> about girls since I have a son and not a daughter and has less access to
> families with daughters) to involves teachers in case of conflicts with other
> boys. That was not normative repertoire of strategies that parents of boys
> known to me in the Soviet Union had. They taught their kids either to fight
> back themselves (³day sdachi² in Russian), to stay back, or to enroll support
> of peers in dealing with the conflict. Some Russian immigrants get into
> trouble in US for teaching their kids that. I wonder how much child rearing
> practices support or inhibit the practices of honor. Also, institutions work
> well for US middle class (but not for working class, for example). I wonder
> how much middle class reliance on institutions in solving their problems helps
> inhibit the notion of honor.
> What do you think?
> Eugene

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