Meanings of Violence

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Insults, Violent crimes, Homicide, Human aggression, Television violence, Rituals, Guns, Politeness, Social organization

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Cultures vary tremendously in how they understand violence. We discuss white southern and northern culture in the United States to illustrate the different meanings cultures ascribe to violence and honor. We argue that (1) Southerners understand the meaning of insults differently than Northerners do. (2) They have behavioral rituals that make allowances for this understanding. And (3) they live within social structures and systems that perpetuate these “culture‐of‐honor” meanings and ideologies. Laboratory experiments, field experiments, surveys, analyses of laws, and records of homicide rates are reviewed. Also, we discuss the legacy of slavery, which legitimized forms of coercive and punitive violence over and above violence legitimized by a culture of honor. Southern violence cannot be understood simply as deviance and lawlessness. Rather, it is a product of a coherent meaning system defining the self, honor, rituals for conflict, and tools that may be used when order is disrupted.

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Citation / Publisher Attribution

The Journal of Legal Studies, v. 27, no. 2, p. 567-584