Uncovering community notions of honour and their relation to honour killings

BHANBHRO, Sadiq (2021). Uncovering community notions of honour and their relation to honour killings. Doctoral, Sheffield Hallam University.

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Link to published version:: https://doi.org/10.7190/shu-thesis-00414


This thesis aims to uncover and explain the notions of honour used to instigate and justify honour killings of women and girls in Pakistan and amongst the UK’s Pakistani community. Honour has been a central concept across many societies. However, its conception, configuration, use, and consequence are variable both historically and culturally. While the notion of honour has prima facie positive connotations and characteristics, its connection to crime, violence and killings makes it contentious. Also, little is known about the complexities of honour killings beyond their popular ‘cultural explanation’, that is, that honour killings are the behaviour of a specific ethnic or cultural group. A critical realist social constructionism framework informed the empirical research, which was carried out using the principles and methods of a critical ethnographic approach. The fieldwork was carried out in Pakistan and the UK. 22 in-depth individual and eight group interviews were conducted in both settings with 45 male and 11 female participants from various ethnolinguistic groups. Additionally, during the fieldwork, non-participant observation was conducted in community-led events, and informal conversations were held with various people during the field visits to both research sites. The data show that the local terms for honour, dishonour and shame have different meanings and functions; these are interconnected and underpin organised structures that constitute the honour system. This functions as a three-pronged system of surveillance, normalisation, and examination, aimed to produce harmless, non-rebellious, passive female bodies. The women who follow the rules are supposed to be satisfied with a life conforming to the normalised standards of being a chaste, modest, and obedient woman. In turn, such a woman is perceived as a vessel of honour of an individual man or wider group that can be a family, lineage, kinship, community, and tribe. In contrast, women and girls who do not conform to the prescribed rules and norms are regarded as defiant, disobedient, and deviant. To control non-conforming women and girls, a range of social practices from forced marriages to honour killings are used by the actors under the auspices of the honour system. Honour killing, that is, killing or attempted killing of women and girls to save or restore a social group’s honour, is an extreme form of such behaviour. Hence, honour killing is not an isolated individual behaviour; instead, it is a social practice rooted in patriarchal cultures and operates within a tight social group as a tool to exercise power and control over women and girls. This is an interdisciplinary study drawing on anthropology, sociology, psychology, gender studies, and public health, which informs the understanding of notions of honour that lie behind honour killings in a transnational context. Drawing on post-colonial literature, critical feminist theories and transnational perspectives, it introduces a shift from an essentialised cultural view, and the binary division of cultures based on the conception of honour to the novel concept of the honour system. This is a ‘real’ and a ‘complex’ social system of power and control underpinned by the notions of honour. This conception enables a change in narratives and behaviour regarding honour killings. Furthermore, this empirical work and related conceptualisation of cross-cultural variability can be used to design culturally specific and acceptable interventions to prevent such violence.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Thesis advisor - Barley, Ruth [0000-0003-0958-9619]
Thesis advisor - Allmark, Peter
Thesis advisor - Hirst, Julia [0000-0001-9230-1828]
Additional Information: Director of studies: Dr. Ruth Barley / Supervisors: Dr. Peter Allmark and Prof. Julia Hirst
Research Institute, Centre or Group - Does NOT include content added after October 2018: Sheffield Hallam Doctoral Theses
Identification Number: https://doi.org/10.7190/shu-thesis-00414
Depositing User: Colin Knott
Date Deposited: 03 Dec 2021 17:38
Last Modified: 17 Sep 2023 01:18
URI: https://shura.shu.ac.uk/id/eprint/29422

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