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Bullying in schools

Research on bullying has shifted focus during the last decade. Today bullying is perceived through theoretical frameworks which emphasize the social dynamics involved in the phenomenon – some based in theories centred on socio-material, material-discursive and poststructuralist thinking, and/or situated learning. The focus of much previous research in the field was on individual deficiencies and aggression versus vulnerability as either the effects of upbringing and/or individual personality traits. However, this has been challenged by a theoretically and empirically based engagement with the complex and manifold forces that are involved in the enactment of bullying practices among children and young people.

In the book School Bullying: New Theories in Context, edited by Robin May Schott and Dorte Marie Søndergaard, bullying is defined as follows: ‘Bullying is an intensification of the processes of marginalization that occur in the context of dynamics of inclusion/exclusion, which shape groups. Bullying happens when physical, social or symbolic exclusion becomes extreme, regardless of whether such exclusion is experienced and/or intended. One of the central mechanisms of bullying is social exclusion anxiety, which may be alleviated by the production of contempt. This contempt for someone or something may be expressed by behavior that, for example, humiliates, trivializes or makes a person feel invisible, involves harm to person or property, abuses social-media profiles or disseminates humiliating messages via technological communication. Although some members of the social group may experience these marginalizing processes as positive, robbing an individual(s) of the social recognition that is necessary for dignity can be a form of psychic torture for those who are targeted’ (p 16-17).

By focusing the many enacting forces, the social group, and, more specifically, the social exclusion anxiety, longing to belong and other mechanisms that may bring about inertia in processes of contempt production and a closing down of empathy towards targeted children and young people, intervention and prevention strategies also have to be rethought and refocused on the culture of the classroom, dominant discourses in the staff room and the ways in which teachers and school principals understand and relate to children and young people.

The Danish School of Education is the base for the research team, eXbus: Exploring Bullying in School www.exbus.dk, working across a range of topics focused on bullying in schools: Social exclusion anxiety and bullying, and bullying and violent video games (Dorte Marie Søndergaard); bullying and teacher positioning, and bullying, school anger and longing to belong (Helle Rabøl Hansen); cyber bullying (Jette Kofoed); bullying and parents’ positioning (Nina Hein); and the effects of bullying in childhood on adults (Charlotte Mathiassen, Eva Viala) (look up the keywords on this website).