Honor and Violence: An Account of Feuds, Duels, and Honor Killings

28 Pages Posted: 23 Oct 2017 Last revised: 10 Sep 2018

Date Written: March 20, 2018


We present a theory of honor violence as a form of costly signaling. Two types of honor violence are identified: revenge and purification. Both types are amenable to a signaling analysis, whereby the violent behavior is a signal that can be used by out- groups to draw inferences about the nature of the signaling group, and thereby helps to solve perennial problems of social cooperation: the problems of deterrence and assurance. The analysis shows that apparently gratuitous acts of violence can be part of a system of norms that are Pareto superior to alternatives without such signals. For societies that lack mechanisms of governance to deter aggression or to enforce contracts, norms of honor can be a rational means of achieving these functions. The theory also suggests mechanisms, however, by which cultures can become trapped in inefficient equilibria, due to path-dependent phenomena. In other words, costly signals of honor may continue to be sent, even in circumstances where they are no longer providing useful information.

Keywords: honor, violence, signaling, revenge, purification

JEL Classification: D74, Z13

Suggested Citation

Thrasher, John and Handfield, Toby, Honor and Violence: An Account of Feuds, Duels, and Honor Killings (March 20, 2018). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3057147 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3057147

John Thrasher (Contact Author)

Chapman University ( email )

1 University Drive
Orange, CA 92866
United States
7146287343 (Phone)

Toby Handfield

Monash University ( email )


HOME PAGE: http://tobyhandfield.com

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