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

To summarize, honour is a sentiment based in the potential or actual social approval of the actions of oneself and one’s family members. Accordingly, in cultures of honour, people care about and emotionally react to the match or mismatch between their and their family members’ actions and the relevant social standards. Conversely, in cultures of dignity, which are based on the conviction that each person has a value which is independent from other persons’ judgments, more importance is given to the match between one’s actions and one’s personal standards. One reason for this difference might be that cultures of honour tend to be more collectivistic than cultures of dignity. Fischer and colleagues (1999) compared the honour concerns in The Netherlands vs. Spain, as well as the types of episodes that elicited shame and pride. Spanish participants had greater honour concerns than Dutch participants. They also reported more events than Dutch participants where both, pride and shame, were experienced in the context of a social relation. For the Spanish, shame was related with episodes in which their honour was publicly threatened. On the other hand, the Dutch described more often self-focused events of pride and shame. These results underline the link between honour concerns and the events that trigger emotions.

Overall, the available literature suggests that honour is an important attribute to social life: It provides a standard for judging one’s own actions and those of others. Honour is therefore immensely important for social reputation and respect, and it is typically based on the whole family, thereby increasing the interdependence and cohesion in the family. In addition, honour deeply influences the psychological functioning of individuals; it provides a basis for self-esteem, determines to a large extent which types of situations provoke emotions and how they are regulated. Nevertheless, there are still some questions remaining: What mechanisms maintain an honour-based thinking? How are honour concerns related to the protection of the group? Why should a culture of honour develop based on protection? We suggest that Relational Models Theory (RMT; Fiske, 1992) offers a good theoretical explanation for some of these questions. RMT claims that social life and social relations are essential in people’s lives. People organize their social lives into four different cognitive models – one of these four basic relational models is communal sharing. In communal sharing relationships people have a sense of shared identity, ignoring the distinctiveness among the members. The relationship is represented as a shared essence or substance between members of a group (Fiske & Haslam, 1997). Most, though not all, American and European families are organized in a communal way of relating. Accordingly, people often represent their families as sharing a common substance: blood. Understanding communal sharing might thus help us understand the way honour is conceptualized and experienced.

Relational Models Theory

According to A. P. Fiske’s Relational Models Theory (1992), all human interactions have a relational meaning – they initiate, affirm, question or end a social relationship of some sort. He suggests that across cultures, people organize their social lives through four different cognitive models. These four models are useful to structure social life. People know a-priori how to recognize each relational model, and this helps them behave in accordance with the norms of that particular model.

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