Feuding is a series of revenge-based killings that not only result in the loss of human life but also contribute to the disruption of the social order. There are five essential elements to feuding: (1) Kinship groups are involved; (2) homicides take place; (3) the killings occur as revenge for a perceived injustice or affront to honor; (4) three or more alternating killings or acts of violence occur; and (5) the violent encounters take place within a political community. Nearly half the societies studied by anthropologists have had feuds occur within them. Feuds can be divided into two types: feuding without compensation, in which there is no institutionalized means by which compensation can be paid, and feuding with compensation, in which payment of compensation can prevent a counter killing, thereby stopping a feud. Cross-cultural studies suggest that the second type of feud outnumbers the first type about 2 to 1. Theories of feuding tend to focus on only one of these two types.
Dividing the world’s societies into those with and those without feuding permits the identification of two types: (1) societies with fraternal interest groups, which have much conflict, including feuding, internal war, rape, and intrakinship group executions, and (2) societies without fraternal interest groups, which have little conflict, no feuding, no internal war, no rape, and polity-wide executions. Fraternal interest groups are localized groups of related males who defend the interests of their members. These groups come into existence through the practice of patrilocal or virilocal residence. Polygyny can also produce fraternal interest groups. Otterbein and Otterbein showed that when patrilocal residence and polygyny were combined, the likelihood of feuding greatly increased. Divale and Harris later showed that such societies had a “male-supremacist complex.” Mistreatment of women and female infanticide accompanied the complex.
Type 1 societies can be divided further, based upon whether councils of elders are present. While all political communities have a leader, some have councils, and some do not. If a polity with a council is at war, the leader may be able to prevent feuding. A leader with the backing of a council may also be able to insist that a kinship group carry out the execution of a wrongdoer in its rank. All the theories listed below except for world systems theory are predicated upon the assumption that fraternal interest groups are present and generating feuds.
Theories of feuding that appear to pertain to societies without compensation include those theories that refer to feuding as self-help, folk justice, or quasi-law. A revenge killing is viewed as a “counteraction” which leads to a “correction.” Another approach known as “world systems theory” argues that commercial expansion leads to disruptive social change, which leads to out-of-control violence. World systems theory has also claimed that such expansion has created warfare in regions where it had not previously existed, “war in the tribal zone.” A third theory views blood revenge as not only defining groups, but preserving them. Retaliation, based on deterrence theory, is believed to prevent counteraggression. Empirically, this does not occur, but if it leads to the elimination of one group, the survivor group has achieved the desired results.
Other theories of feuding appear to pertain only to societies with compensation. In societies with patri-lineages organized into segmentary lineage systems, Max Gluckman has identified “peace in the feud.” Lineages make peace through the payment of compensation, thus uniting to form larger kinship groups that feud with each other. Another theory, argued by Christopher Boehm, views the payment of compensation as a means of controlling conflict: Feudists realize that uncontrolled armed combat within the polity would lead to huge casualties.
- Boehm, C. (1984). Blood revenge: The anthropology of feuding in Montenegro and other tribal societies.
- Lawrence: University of Kansas Press.
- Daly, M., & Wilson, M. (1988). Homicide. New York: Aldine de Gruyter.
- Ferguson, R. B., & Whitehead, N. L. (Eds.). (1992). War in the tribal zone: Expanding states and indigenous warfare. Seattle: University of Washington Press.
- Gluckman, M. (1982). Custom and conflict in Africa. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
- Otterbein, K. F. (Ed.). (1994). Feuding and warfare: Selected works of Keith F. Otterbein. Langhorne, PA: Gordon & Breach.
- Waller, A. L. (1988). Feud: Hatfields, McCoys, and social change in Appalachia, 1860-1900. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.