Anthropology/honor system


QUESTION: Hello, sir, I would like you to point me towards resources related to reasons for the existence of honor based societies and social systems.
Also, what is your take on that?

ANSWER: Hello Victor,

There are a number of "Honor" based societies.  These are societies which are patriarchal in nature and in which women have few "rights" to self determination.  These may societies may have a duality in that their religion may allow for such self determination but the society does not permit it and prevents its women from learning about this factor by denying their women from having an education.

These societies also tend to be rather tribal in nature.  Among them are many of the Nomadic tribes of North Africa such as the Tuareg.  The tribal people of the mountains of Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, and else where in the Middle East.  One of the features of such "honor" societies is the "honor killing of girls and women" who have "dis honored" their families in some way.  

What is my take on this?  Difficult to answer.  I live in a society which does not condone this behavior.  Women are "equal and free" to do as they choose.  Thus, for me as an anthropologist I must keep an open mind to the ways of other cultures and societies.  I can not nor hope to never impose my views on peoples from other cultural norms.  However, I am one who would provide the needed education from a culturally sensitive perspective to help such societies a better understanding of how their views are seen in the rest of the world and how to modify their views to be less ardent.

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QUESTION: Your answer clarifies some things I was curious about, but I would like to know the pragmatic reason these societies became as they are.
Why a honor system? How does it serve the group?
And, are there any useful books about this?

Hi Victor,  

The book I mentioned by Dr. Berland would be a good starting point.  

As for a pragmatic reason, This is very difficult to answer at it would require that we go back in history to the beginnings of many of these groups and the reasons behind this "type" of system.  It may have been designed in hopes of ensuring the survival of the next generation by controlling who could marry in or out of the tribe.  The control of behaviors outside of what was expected to be a social norm and to enforce behaviors seen as appropriate.  These behaviors would be in part dictated  by their belief systems but more importantly by the environment.  As with much of the Middle East and North Africa, the social systems were in place long before Islam came into being.  This was then super imposed upon these societies and they incorporated those aspects that strengthened their own belief systems and rejected those aspects that were contrary to their societal norms, like t he equality of women.  

I hope that this answers your question.  If not, please ask very specific questions as  this will help me focus more on your needs.


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Ralph Salier


Business Anthropologist. Business negotiations in multiple cultures and working with multiple cultures in the business arena. Broad understanding of business practices and business "ethics" in different parts of the world.


25+ years in international procurement and negotiations.


MA Anthropology, Proximics

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