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Honor And Violence

Historians have been fascinated by the violence associated with the defense of honor, and especially with the duel. The ritualized nature of duels made this violence acceptable in elite male contexts, an acceptance that plebeians and women in general could not reproduce. In a larger sense, dueling has been analyzed as an example of the relationship between forms of social mediation and levels of violence within particular different societies, with some historians looking especially to the theories of civilization of Norbert Elias in order to understand the evolution of duels and social violence as a central part of honor culture.

Much of the scholarship on dueling has focused on the reasons for its gradual abandonment. Historians have found that while governments often tried to legislate dueling out of existence, other factors such as a generalized social disapproval, changing weaponry (from swords to pistols), and new understandings of honor were stronger factors. Even after duels had disappeared, however, the culture surrounding them privileged certain members of society.

Insults have proven a particularly useful source for historians interested in the workings of honor in past societies. Insults are linked to violence as they precede or provoke it, but they also constitute a type of verbal assault in their own right. Most often, these words only came to light when litigation ensued. Legal codes recognized insults as cause for restitution because they harmed the individual, attacking their honor and their ability to function in their own community.

Additional topics

Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Heterodyne to Hydrazoic acidHonor - Early Conceptualizations Of Honor, Public Expressions Of Honor, Honor And Gender, Honor And Violence