Skip to main content
SearchLoginLogin or Signup

Review 2 of "Infidelity, Liability, and Violence"

Published onMay 24, 2022
Review 2 of "Infidelity, Liability, and Violence"
key-enterThis Pub is a Review of

Vote: Publish pending minor changes

[For votes to count, referees must reasonably explain why they voted as they did. Thus, please explain your vote. If you voted to publish pending minor changes, specify each change, why it is needed, and, possibly, how it should/could be done.]

Over the past four and a half decades, an impressive sociological literature has been amassed on the topic of moral conflict (see Campbell and Manning 2018).  Working within the Blackian paradigm (also known as “social geometry” or “pure sociology”), scholars have shed light on the sociological causes of moral conflict (see, e.g., Black 2011, 2018; Campbell 2015; Cooney 2019; Manning 2020) and how conflict is handled once it arises (see, e.g., Baumgartner 1988; Black 1976, 1998; Senechal de la Roche 1996; Tucker 1999).  Jason Manning’s “Infidelity, Liability, and Violence” contributes to this literature by addressing an underexplored aspect of moral conflict: liability. 

 Liability refers to accountability for wrongdoing or misfortune (p. 3).  There are two variable aspects of liability: standard and identity.  The former refers to how accountability is determined.  The standard of liability typically falls into one of three categories: an evaluation of the offender’s conduct and subjective mental state (relative liability), conduct alone (strict liability), or mere association with the wrongdoing (absolute liability) (Black 1987).  Manning’s paper, however, focuses on identity, or who is held responsible for wrongdoing?  Specifically, who will be held accountable (with violence) for perceived or actual infidelity: the aggrieved person’s partner, romantic rival, or both (p. 3)?  

 Because there have been so few studies on this topic (p. 10), before Manning can identify “several factors that are important” to explaining who is liable for infidelity (p. 10), he must first illustrate that who is held responsible for infidelity does indeed vary.  To this end, Manning draws on a disparate set of qualitative case-level data derived from two prior studies conducted in Kentucky and West Virginia (originally focusing on suicide and homicide-suicide) and a general reading of the ethnographic literature (with the help of the Human Relations Area Files Database).  Using these data, first, Manning describes examples of rival, partner, and duel liability for infidelity in modern criminal homicide cases (pp. 5-8).  Afterwards, he describes examples from tribal and traditional societies (pp. 8-10).  

 What explains this variation in who is held liable for infidelity?  Manning does not give us a definitive answer, but he does point us toward some variables that may prove helpful in the future: (1) opportunity, (2) domestic inequality and distance, and (3) honor norms. 

 First, for someone who be held violently liable for infidelity you need access to them.  Manning emphasizes access to romantic rivals.  For example, some aggrieved individuals will not know the identity or whereabouts of their partner’s paramour.  As a result, it is unlikely that they will be held violently liability for the infidelity.  However, in some settings (e.g., small towns with stable ties and little privacy) and during some scenarios (e.g., when the aggrieved finds their partner and rival together), a rival’s identity and whereabouts are more easily known.  And in those places and situations, we would expect rival liability to be higher. 

 Second, Manning reasons that partner liability (specifically, against unfaithful wives) should increase the more romantic relationships resemble a structure of “cold patriarchy,” where husbands are superior to and distant from their wives.  Concomitantly, pure rival liability will be less likely.

Finally, honor cultures place a lot of emphasize on respect.  People abiding by honor norms must resist, violently if necessary, acute cases of disrespect (including, in some cases, subtle slights like accidently bumping into someone).  It is reasonable then to assume that in an honor culture, person A will likely feel slighted by person B if person B seeks romantic or sexual involvement with person A’s partner.  Violence is a likely response.  As a result, we would predict that rival liability for infidelity will be high in honor cultures.  Concomitantly, pure partner liability will be less likely.  Where do honor cultures emerge?  Manning points to milieus “where state legal systems are absent, weak, or otherwise ineffective” (p. 13).  Logically then, locations where law is distrusted and ineffective should see higher rates of pure rival liability and lower rates of pure partner liability. 

Review and Decision

All in all, I believe this piece is a worthwhile contribution to the study of moral conflict generally and liability in particular.  It contains important insights that may be of interest to scholars in different fields (e.g., sociology, criminology, criminal justice, and anthropology) and it will be of interest to those who study homicide, intimate partner violence, romantic relationships, conflict, law, and morality.

Though at times I feel that the two substantive sections of the paper (“Liability for Infidelity in Homicide Cases” and “What Explains Liability?”) are not in clear communication with one another, I understand of course, that proposing something original often means addressing relationships that have not yet been thoroughly studied.  So, I do see the difficulty in connecting the two sections.  

Of course, the explanatory part of the paper (“What Explains Liability?”) still needs testing, and is subject to counterargument, but such is the nature of scientific and intellectual work.  I see Manning’s paper as an invitation to others to take up the topic of liability in the context of infidelity.  I believe it should be published so that further discussion and argument can take place in print.  With that said, I would like for the author to proof read the paper more carefully before publication. 

While this is not a required revision, I think Manning should consider how stable ties play into the emergence of honor culture; I think it could bolster his argument.  First, Manning points out that stable ties increase the opportunity to find out the identity and whereabouts of a romantic rival, subsequently increasing violence against them after infidelity (p. 11).  Second, Manning also argues that honor norms increase the likelihood of rival liability (pp. 12-14), pointing to distrusted and ineffective law as a source of honor culture.  I think these two ideas are related and can be more clearly connected in the paper.  Specifically, Cooney (1998, p. 119-121) points to tie stability as essential to the emergence of honor culture.  After all, reputation (which is key to honor culture) is more important when you are surrounded by the same people for an extended period of time, which is often the case in poor minority communities in segregated US cities.  High relational fluidity, more common among wealthy suburbanites, lessens the importance of reputation and thus honor culture.  In short, there are two reasons why tie stability (or rigidity) increases the likelihood of rival liability: it (1) provides an opportunity to become aware of the rival and (2) enhances honor norms.

[Please put additional info below, as/if you see fit:] 

There are a number of small sentence level errors that should be addressed before publication:

  • See the following sentence on Page 4: “Not only might people…”

  • See the following sentence on Page 10: “This appears to have been so…”

  • See the following sentence on Page 12: “For instance, Black (2018) argues…”

  • See the following sentence on Page 13: “It may even be seen as something akin…”

  • See the following sentence on Page 13: “But it also many poor and minority…”

1 of 2
No comments here
Why not start the discussion?