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School bullying as a creator of pupil peer pressure

Educational Research , Volume 50 (4): 333-345 – Dec 1, 2008


© 2008 Informa plc
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School bullying as a creator of pupil peer pressure


Background: Research into school bullying has a long tradition but a rather narrow scope. Many prevention programmes have been designed, but despite extensive investigation, most studies suggest that bullying is not decreasing. There is something paradoxical in this phenomenon. In order to have any real impact on some phenomena, thorough understanding is needed. What, then, is the essence of school bullying? How does it develop and how is it maintained in a community? In the present study written material and interviews concerning pupilś experiences of bullying were used to examine how the status of the bully is created among pupils and how cultural norms and values in the community are constructed via bullying. Bullying as a phenomenon is a hidden process, where teachers are often misled. The meanings given to bullying behaviour can often be understood only by the pupils in the community. This is why bullying is possible in the presence of the teacher and also during lessons. The study suggests the need to see bullying in a broader social and cultural framework, which also provides a new way of understanding pupilś social relationships. Purpose: This study attempts to understand school bullying as a phenomenon from a social and cultural viewpoint. Communication in and meanings given to bullying acts in the school community are in focus. Sample: The study sample comprised 85 lower secondary school pupils, aged 13-15, from various schools in central Finland. The data analysed consisted of 85 written accounts and 10 interviews. Design and methods: Pupils were asked to write about 'School bullying'. The interviews were open-ended thematic interviews or episodic interviews (cf. Friebertsh user). A hermeneutic method was used in analysing the meanings in the texts. The transcribed texts were analysed using categories and themes within which the meanings given to bullying were interpreted. Results: Our study suggested that bullying behaviour consists of short communicative situations which are often hidden from teachers. These separate situations account for the subjective experience of bullying. Bullying behaviour is a way of gaining power and status in a group or school class. The status is maintained by calling a pupil who is bullied different names. The 'difference' in the bullied pupil is interpreted as a culturally avoidable characteristic. In this way, bullying behaviour creates cultural norms and forces all pupils in the bullying community to follow them. Telling stories and calling the bullied pupil names increases the group's cohesion and the treatment of the bullied pupil creates fear in other pupils, who do not dare to fight bullying. In a community where bullying occurs, fear and guilt are obvious. Conclusions: Bullying is embedded in cultural norms, values and social status in the whole community. The hidden nature of the phenomenon emerges in short communicative situations that should be taken seriously. This research applies an approach from sociology and cultural studies to an area that has been dominated by psychological approaches. In doing so, it opens up a variety of interpretations of what bullying is and how it develops in schools.
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