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First published online July 2, 2016

Self-Protection and the Culture of Honor: Explaining Southern Violence

Abstract

The southern United States has long been known to be more violent than the northern United States. The authors argue that this may be due in part to an ideology justifying violence for self-protection and for maintaining "honor " or a reputation for toughness. Analysis of data from three surveys shows that southern White males do not endorse violence unconditionally but do endorse violence when it is used for self-protection, to defend one's honor, or to socialize children. These data fit well with behavioral data concerning gun ownership and the types of homicide committed in the South. Although the conditions that gave rise to southern violence are largely gone, it may be sustained through collective representations emphasizing the importance of honor and through violent self-fulfilling prophecies centering on hypersensitivity to affronts.

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1. Obviously, much of what we have said about the South can also be said about the West and even portions of the lower Midwest, as parts of these areas were used for herding, parts were frontier, and parts were settled largely by southerners (Gastil, 1971). As a preliminary step, we chose to make a simple South/non-South distinction. However, future research will inevitably make the issue more complicated as it considers historical, economic, and cultural differences and similarities both within and between regions.

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Article first published online: July 2, 2016
Issue published: October 1994

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History

Issue published: October 1994
Published online: July 2, 2016

Authors

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Dov Cohen
University of Michigan
Richard E. Nisbett
University of Michigan

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