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Manual of Articles Sections 15 - 27
Bullying turns out to be a difficult concept to define. There was, on the one hand, a strong feeling that everyone knows what it is; on the other, there was real difficulty in specifying precisely what was to be understood by the term. One prominent and influential British educationalist, Delwyn Tattum (Tattum & Tattum) defined bullying as follows “Bullying is a willful conscious desire to hurt another and put him/her under stress” (p. 147). This definition appealed to many readers. Bullying was seen as being in the mind of the perpetrator. Bullying was a state of mind, a feeling or an attitude. More behaviorally inclined thinkers disagreed. Many people, it could be argued, have malign intentions that they never put into effect. Indeed, others may be blissfully unaware of their evil intent. Could this then be bullying? Alternative proposals were made. Olweus saw bullying as follows: A student is being bullied or victimized when he or she is exposed repeatedly and over time to negative actions on the part of one or more other students (p. 9). This was in some respects more satisfying. Actions were involved. It remained tote clarified what constituted “negative actions.” Who was to judge—the perpetrator, the victim, the observer? Must bullying always have the quality of being “repeated?” Could not one be bullied in a single encounter? But, perhaps the most important question was this: How does being bullied differ (if at all) from being the target of aggression? These questions led to new and different formulations of bullying. Gradually more and more researchers felt obliged to make a distinction between being treated negatively by someone of equal or similar power, as in what is sometimes called “a fair fight” and being treated negatively by someone—or a group of people—who are more powerful and against whom one is unable to resist. A distinguishing feature of bullying became the presence of an imbalance of power that favored the perpetrator of the negative act(s). As to who is the judge of whether an act is “negative” the consensus moved towards taking the word of the victim. Only the victim could say whether actions were hurtful. The victim was therefore the judge. This was not without problems. Could not the hurt be unintended? Maybe there was something in the notion that bullying involves a desire to hurt after all! Less obviously, could not a person be bullied without knowing it—perhaps realizing it, if at all, much later in retrospect? Despite these difficulties, the orthodox view is that bullying is to be inferred from the feelings of those who are targeted,, or think they are targeted—in short, from those who feel oppressed. This is suggested in an influential definition proposed by David Farrington: “Bullying is repeated oppression of a less powerful person, physical or psychological, by a more powerful person.”
The key word here is “oppression.” The MacQuarie Dictionary defines oppression as “the exercise of authority or power in a burdensome, cruel or unjust manner” (p. 1197). Once the concept of bullying has been linked with that of “oppression,” it becomes clear that one cannot examine bullying without raising issues of justice. It is a curious fact that discussions of bullying commonly do not bring in considerations of right and wrong. Yet, much of the difficulty in determining whether a forceful act is an example of bullying lies in deciding whether the act is just or unjust. The issue arises most clearly when we ask ourselves whether an authority figure—a general, a policeman, a teacher, a parent—has gone beyond what is to be expected of them when they censure or punish someone. And, of course, expectations change over time. A school prefect in a 19th century English Boarding School could chastise his fag [private schools to describe a junior pupil required to perform certain services for a senior] for not cleaning his boots without being accused of bullying him. Today that would be insufferable. Expectations change also from place to place. In Scandinavian counties the law does not permit a parent to strike a child. The parent who did strike a child would be called a bully. In most parts of the world hitting a child (in moderation) is seen as an appropriate disciplinary measure. How then should bullying be defined? It is fair to say that there is no universally agreed definition, and perhaps there cannot be an agreed definition as long as there are differences in what constitutes the proper, justifiable use (as opposed to the abuse) of power. My own view (Rigby, 2001b, p. 6) is that in conceptualizing bullying we need to take into account seven elements:
Bullying involves a desire to hurt + hurtful action + a power imbalance + (typically) repetition + an unjust use of power + evident enjoyment by the aggressor + a sense of being oppressed on the part of the victim.
I must add, that I have in mind here “malign bullying.” I concede that sometimes one may bully someone, giving rise to a sense of oppression on the part of the victim, which was not intended. In such cases, the problem, though by no means unimportant, is more easily resolved and is of less concern than what I have called malign bullying.
How Bullying may be Perpetrated
- Rigby EdD, Ken; What It Takes to Stop Bullying in Schools: An Examination of the Rationale and Effectiveness of School-Based Interventions; in Appraisal and Prediction of School Violence; Michael J Furlong et al (eds); Nova Science Publishers Inc: New York; 2004
Reflection Exercise #1
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