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reviews Our regular review section features some of the best new books, films, and sound recordings in southern studies. From time to time, you'll also find reviews of important new museum exhibitions and public history sites, and retrospectives on classic works that continue to shape our understanding of the region and its people. Our aim is to explore the rich diversity of southern life and the methods and approaches of those who study it. Please write us to share your suggestions, or to add your name to our reviewer file. Culture of Honor The Psychology ofViolence in the South By Richard E. Nisbett and Dov Cohen Westview Press, 1996 xviii +119 pp. Cloth, $59.95 ; paper, $12.95 Reviewed by Julius Rowan Rapar, professor of FJnglish at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He is the author of three books on the fiction of Ellen Glasgow. More recendy he has written Narcissusfrom Rubble: Competing Models ofCharacter in Contemporary British andAmerican Fiction (1992) and coedited ¡Mwrence Durrell: Comprehending the Whole O995)· Finally it is official. Our mothers and fathers warned us it was true. The playground bully showed us it was true. Newspapers, magazines, and television told us so. Over and over, Glasgow, Wolfe, Caldwell, and Faulkner convinced us ofit. Now that two social scientists have proved it, it must surely be the case. Southerners are more violent than northerners. At least, two professors of psychology at midwestern universities, Richard E. Nisbett, University ofMichigan, and Dov Cohen, University of Illinois, UrbanaChampaign , have combined a significant body of statistics widi ingenious lab experiments of their own design to make a compelling case supporting a generalization many of the rest of us take to be self-evident: in the use ofviolence to revenge insults and to control obstreperous social groups, the South leads the nation. Nisbett and Cohen earnestiy attempt to imitate the rigorous epistemology of the hard lab sciences. Yet the numbers they come up with are hardly stats of steel. Most glaringly, the southerners with whom they conducted their experiments at the University of Michigan are not the same southerners they generalize about when they use their statistics on homicides and other matters related to violence. 80 They gather these numbers from U. S. Department of Justice data, National Opinion Research Center surveys, Gallup polls, and a variety of other sources both public and academic; the subjects of their experiments were all students attending the local university and coming from "families that were financially welloff on the average." Outside the lab experiments, the "southerners" who especially interest Nisbett and Cohen, when they can "disaggregate" their data, are white males who inhabit the "hills and dry plains" (but not the farming regions) ofthe Deep South (where North Carolina and Virginia are "located" on one occasion), plus the hills ofTennessee , Kentucky, and West Virginia. To this group they add Texas and Oklahoma . In fact, at times, they go ahead and lump statistics for the South and Southwest together, a blurring that suggests that the deep target of their investigation might in fact be that amorphous invention the media call the Sun Belt. Why not? Better a shotgun than a rifle. Although Nisbett and Cohen recognize that there are a number of different Souths, they apparendy do not realize that the South was a political fiction from the start and that when one allows for geographical, chronological, ethnic, religious , racial, class, and gender varieties, probably about as many Souths exist as flavors of southern barbecue. Consequendy, Nisbett and Cohen appear much more comfortable cranking out numbers about the South and the southerner than many contemporary observers would feel. For this reader, in any case, such soft stats do not automatically turn a lab science into a flab science, for when it comes to human subjects, we must often setde for subject-friendly numbers. This is one of the reasons we need the anecdotes and intuitions of our novelists, who, in this matter, have run a good century ahead of Nisbett and Cohen in the effort to comprehend southern violence. In general, the two authors have in mind the Celtic South, and within that group the Scotch-Irish South—but not the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1534-1488
Print ISSN
1068-8218
Pages
pp. 80-83
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-04
Open Access
No
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