Saving Face

Badges of Honour

(C) Randomwire

A long-running saga in the UK, the delayed replacement of the Anti-Social Behaviour Order, or ASBO, is still being met with resistance from some quarters, including the Association of Chief Police Officers (Police chiefs worried by plans to scrap ASBOs). Among other reasons, police chiefs believe that the scrapping of the ASBO will hinder attempts to reduce criminality at its earliest stages (the breach of an ASBO is a criminal offence, but not the ASBO itself).

Research in this area suggests that the jury is out on the relationship between criminality and deployment of the ASBO. What tends to be given more credence is the notion that, far from being a source of shame, for some individuals the possession of an ASBO is, in common parlance, a badge of honour – something to be proud of, an achievement that attracts and demands respect. Once it was realised that an ASBO could enhance rather than diminish one’s reputation, it was clear that the days of the ASBO were numbered.

Whether or not the ASBO is to be renamed, replaced or simply scrapped is difficult to call at this juncture. But what the ASBO and its power indicate is that one person’s honour is another person’s disgrace. Everyone wants to be perceived as honourable, but the manner in which they feel forced to defend or enhance their honour suggests that definitions of honour are numerous and open to wild interpretation – the plague of honour killings being a classic and disturbing example of honour at its most extreme. Just as it was in the Charge of the Light Brigade, the defending of one’s honour still results in barbarism, cruelty and stupidity.

The reason for this is that dishonour acts as a lightning rod for other fragile relational emotions such as shame, humiliation and disrespect. Conversely, the power of honour takes its source from a capacity to confer standing, privilege and recognition on to whom it is bestowed. Far from badges of honour being the preserve of pre-modern societies, non-Western countries or outdated dysfunctional tribes (mafia, gangs etc), these badges are still sought and fought over by many as markers of distinction and belonging.

And when the opportunity presents itself to wear one of these badges, can anyone really be blamed for wearing them with pride?

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By Mark Murphy

Mark Murphy is a Reader in Education and Public Policy at the University of Glasgow. He previously worked as an academic at King’s College, London, University of Chester, University of Stirling, National University of Ireland, Maynooth, University College Dublin and Northern Illinois University. Mark is an active researcher in the fields of education and public policy. His research interests include educational sociology, critical theory, accountability in higher education, and public sector reform.