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  • Print publication year: 2014
  • Online publication date: December 2014

6 - Honor and shame


In diverse cultures around the Mediterranean basin and east though Arabia, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, there are variants of the honor and shame complex (Schneider, 1971). In the traditional Mediterranean, honor is synonymous with never backing down when threatened, forcing others to back down by threatening violence, avenging insults and homicides, and, to a somewhat lesser degree, killing rather than being killed. Honor and dishonor are shared among brothers, fathers, and sons, who are collectively responsible for avenging the death of any of them, and who are collectively liable to be killed in revenge for a homicide any of them have committed (Black-Michaud, 1975: 54). As Pitt-Rivers (1966a) points out, “The ultimate vindication of honor lies in physical violence” (p. 29), and in the extreme case, the final proof of superiority is that the individual is able to take the life of another (Marvin, 1986: 125).

Variants of this complex are salient in many other cultures with roots in this region, including much of Latin America and many societies strongly oriented to Roman Catholicism or Islam. While there are many differences and peculiarities of particular cultures, a number of common elements co-occur (or co-occurred) in most of the traditional cultures of this region; indeed, all of the following features occur together in many Mediterranean cultures and many cultures elsewhere that have been historically influenced by this region.

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