Family Honour and the Purity of the Family’s Essence: A Relational Models Approach

Conclusions

According to relational models theory, communal sharing relationships are characterized by a perception of shared essence, which is pure but can be contaminated. Families are an example of such communal groups. Their essence has to be protected by family members. The law of contagion and the law of similarity show how humans universally have a preconception that having contact with someone who is now impure, or being similar to that person, can result in contamination. This is the basis of the idea that the family honour can be ruined when the substance of any of its members is polluted. If the essence is contaminated, and no longer pure, this contamination spreads to the other members of the group (Fiske, 1992). In sum, thinking in terms of honour grows out of the characteristics of relational models.

According to relational models theory, communal sharing relationships are characterized by a perception of shared essence, which is pure but can be contaminated. Families are an example of such communal groups. Their essence has to be protected by family members. The law of contagion and the law of similarity show how humans universally have a preconception that having contact with someone who is now impure, or being similar to that person, can result in contamination. This is the basis of the idea that the family honour can be ruined when the substance of any of its members is polluted. If the essence is contaminated, and no longer pure, this contamination spreads to the other members of the group (Fiske, 1992). In sum, thinking in terms of honour grows out of the characteristics of relational models.
In this article we focused exclusively on the communal sharing aspects of honour. As pointed out in the introduction, however, honour also defines the hierarchical position of a family within a larger group. The hierarchical component of honour, then, corresponds to authority ranking relationships among the families on the power/status dimension. Displaying a readiness to fight, for example by assuming an upright posture, often suffices to fend off actual violent conflict. However, the prerequisite for entering this game of status competition seems to be the purity of the family essence. It ensures the loyalty of the family members to each other and is the basis for the social reputation of the family. As such, then, family honour seems to be the basis for male honour and all other modes of relations. This is reflected in the fact that the worst insults in cultures of honour tend to be those which call into question the family purity, such as suggesting a man’s mother might be a prostitute.

Final remarks

In honour cultures, honour is one way to represent the group essence. If we look at relationships within and between families, we find the importance of honour as an indicator of a family’s standing in society. Family honour is one of the most important concerns – families build their social status and their social respect based on honour codes. The way each family is seen in the society will also define and structure the relationships that the family maintains not only within itself, but also with the other families. Therefore, understanding honour keeps being an important challenge.

References

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Cohen, D., & Niisbett, R. E. (1994). Self-protection and the culture of honor: Explaining southern violence. Personality and Social Psychological Bulletin, 20, 551-567.

Cohen, D., Nisbett, R. E., Bowdle, B. F., & Schwartz, N. (1996). Insult, aggression, and the southern culture of honour: An “experimental ethnography”. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 70, 945-960.

Fischer, A. H., Manstead, A. S. R., & Rodriguez Mosquera, P. M. (1999). The role of honour-related vs. individualistic values in conceptualizing pride, shame, and anger: Spanish and Dutch cultural prototypes. Cognition and Emotion, 13, 149-179.

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