Posts Tagged ‘violence’


Honor Killings

January 26, 2010

by Sarah Michele Ford
e-mail: ford-at-soc-dot-umass-dot-edu

On January 17th, a 21-year old Indian woman was murdered; the alleged killer was her father.

What would drive a father to kill his daughter? In this case, the motivation appears to have been that the daughter had married a man of whom her father did not approve. To those of us who have been raised in Western cultures, this “honor killing” – the murder of a woman by a family member because she has violated social or sexual norms – seems crazy. This practice, however, has a long history in a number of cultures, primarily in the Middle East.

In order to even begin to understand the phenomenon of honor killings, we have to keep a number of things in mind. First and foremost is the concept of “honor”. The honor at stake in these cases is not the woman’s – it is that of her father and other male relatives. In the Turkish context, for example, “A man’s “honour” consists of two main components: His reputation is determined by his own actions in the community (“seref’) and the chastity or virtue of the female members of his family (“names”)” (“They Killed her for Going Out With Boys…”, 35 Hofstra L. Rev. 815 2006-2007). Why, you might ask, is a man’s honor dependent upon the actions of his female family members? This brings to the fore another vast cultural difference between these cultures and the West. In our social context, the individual is the most important social unit. In this particular Middle Eastern context, however, the family is the most important social unit. It is the family’s honor that the young woman in the Indian example has brought into question. And, in that context, it has historically been considered acceptable to restore the family’s honor by eliminating the person who brought it into question.

This social phenomenon raises so many questions for us as sociologists. Is it appropriate for us to take a relativist view and say that these acts are understandable within their cultural context? (Human rights groups condemn the practice – see Stop Honour Killings and reports from Human Rights Watch on Afghanistan and Turkey.) If we conclude that we need to speak out against this practice, what is the best way for us to do so?

Most of all, though, this phenomenon illustrates the ways that all of the questions we ask as sociologists are intertwined. This one topic forces us to think about culture and cultural relativism, gender inequality and family structures, power, human rights, and numerous other issues as well. When we study sociology, we can’t ever boil a question down to one issue, or even to one “type” of sociology. People are so complex, society is so complex, that everything is interrelated.


Can Cartoons Promote Violence?

August 2, 2009

In sociology there is a theory called “modeling.” It refers to a process through which we watch other people and learn from their behavior. For example, if a person always dresses in a business suit and we notice he is promoted faster than those who don’t—some of us might start wearing more formal attire if we want to get promoted, too! In more scholarly terms, we copy behavior we associate with positive outcomes in society. Now, the rub is, how responsible are we in the behavior we choose to copy? Watch the cartoon below and see if it associates violence with social success:

Would you like to discuss this cartoon? If so select one of the topics below and reply to it.

1. How did the characters in the cartoon attempt to dominate each other through education or violence? What might this suggest about the social utility of violence versus intelligence in social competition ?

2. How much credibility do you think cartoons would have in determining your own social behavior? Do you think a nine-year-old would view the content of the cartoon differently? What are the possible implications of the modeling theory being applied to determine the possible effects of violence in cartoon content?

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What is Domestic Abuse?

July 17, 2009

Domestic violence is a growing problem, not only in America but in many other countries, as well. Traditionally, when we speak of domestic violence, we think of men abusing their wives. However, domestic violence also includes wives abusing husbands, parents abusing children, and even children abusing the elderly. Domestic abuse can also take many forms other than physical attacks—it can be economic blackmail, psychological abuse, imprisonment in the home, or social isolation.

Above is an Australian public service announcement. After you have watched it, respond to one of the topics below:

1. Do you think forms of domestic abuse other than psychical violence are as serious? Why or why not?

2. What level of involvement do you think should be required of the public in reporting or preventing domestic abuse?

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Changing Violent Norms

July 14, 2009

Sociologists study values and norms because they believe norms form a base for shared behavior. In other words, if most people think they should behave a particular way in a specific circumstance, then that behavior becomes both predictable and common in society. Common behavior allows for the development of social organization and stabilizes society—that is, if the norms producing these behavior are constructive. But what happens if underlying norms and values of common behavior are not productive? What happens if these norms or values are destructive or even promote violence?

This is a hypothesis that many sociologists use, in part, to explain why some people are violent. Norms are taught to us—we are not born with them. Thus, these sociologists hold that some people are taught to be violent—in other words, the use of violence forms a “base norm” for some groups of people. But if destructive norms are some of the underlying factors that create and maintain violence in some areas—why can’t we just teach people different norms?

Andy Coghlan of “Science and Society” reported that a new program based on changing values and norms has apparently reduced the firearm shootings and killings in areas of Chicago and Baltimore between 41% and 73%! Retaliation murders, those committed by people in response to another act, dropped in some area by 100%! The tactics for this program, dubbed CeaseFire, includes teaching people that solving problems with violence is “uncool” or makes the person look “stupid”. The violent actor loses respect on the street.

Below is a short recording of a counselor talking to young people in a violence intervention group sponsored by CeaseFire called “Project Change”. This is an eight-week program of life-skills training, part of which is teaching alternative problem solving methods and negotiation techniques.

Would you like to respond to this posting? If so, select a topic below and respond to it:

1. Explain how the CeaseFire program can be used to illustrate the practical application of sociology.

2. Do you think this program would work in your community? Why or why not?

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Teenage Girl Gangs

June 24, 2009

The role of girls in gangs is changing...

The role of girls in gangs is changing...

Traditionally in the United States, when people thought of street gangs—it was a gang of boys. Girls associated with street gangs were either the members’ girlfriends or sex objects for the gang. But that’s not the case anymore. A recent study conducted by Christian E. Molidor of the University of Texas suggests that not only are girls becoming more active as full members in street gangs, but they are becoming more violent as well.

What hasn’t changed is the traditional social characteristics of girls who associate with gangs. They are usually victims of sexual abuse, poverty, poor schools, and/or members of dysfunctional families. What has changed is the function of the gang for these girls—not only is gang membership a source of protection, it is also a means of empowerment. They sell and transport drugs, rob businesses, mug people, and fight with other gangs to defend their “turf” or area of operation.

Would you like to respond to this posting? If so select a topic below:

1. Why do you think girls are becoming more active members of gangs? Do you think this is linked with changing gender expectations in their generation?

2. What does this tell us about how violence and status are related in some parts of our society? How would you address this problem as a sociologist?

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