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UBC Theses and Dissertations

School bullying : the inside story Battaglio, Carol


School bullying has been a chronic concern for educators since long before Charles Dickens documented its hazards in the schools of his day. Nevertheless, comprehensive school-wide antibullying programs representing extended and consistent effort have resulted at best in a 50% reduction of bullying, at worst a 15% increase (Roberts, 1997), and educators continue to search for solutions. The purpose of this study was to search for a better understanding of bullying in order to develop more effective strategies for preventing it. Although there is general agreement in the research with the present accounting of the incidence of school bullying, and of the long-term negative consequences to self-esteem and mental health, the participants in this study suggested that our understanding of what constitutes or defines a victim or a bully, and the dynamics of aggression and power all need more careful scrutiny. A review of the literature revealed that school bullying is usually attributed to maladapted individuals, and associated with aggression, primitive levels of moral behaviour, and the use and misuse of power. There are many theories and conceptualizations regarding the root causes and dynamics of this aggression, moral turpitude and power abuse. Past personal history, attachment experiences and the influence of cultural models may be included as contributing factors for aggression. But none of these factors tell the whole story. Almost all previous research on bullying has been quantitative questionnaires or dependent upon external observation. In an attempt to develop a broader picture of school bullying, the researcher applied Grounded Theory, as developed by Corbin and Strauss (2000). This is a qualitative method of investigation designed to obtain the inside story from the point of view of participants. An advertisement in a local newspaper resulted in eighteen volunteer participants who told their personal stories of bullying and being bullied. The interviews were audio-taped, transcribed, and analyzed following the Paradigm Model (Corbin & Strauss, 2001). Applying the prescribed procedures associated with this model--open coding, axial coding, and selective coding--a conceptual model of bullying was developed. The consequences of bullying as reported by these eighteen participants supported previous research regarding the long-term effects of bullying, such as early school leaving, reduced self-esteem, and depression, but long-term addictions also appeared to be a possible consequence of bullying. In this study a more dynamic picture of bullying was discovered than is usually believed, where individuals may be bullies and victims, depending upon the social context, and where individuals who administer or receive victimizing behaviours may be enmeshed in contextual and systemic factors, with their behaviours to a considerable extent being co-created by group dynamics and patterns of power in the contextual situation. The picture of bullying that emerged from this study seems to suggest that to eliminate school bullying, interventions may require a wider appreciation of the embeddedness of individual behaviour in group dynamics. Quality of attachments, group dynamics, power systems and social context emerged as factors of equal importance to the characteristics of individuals in explaining bullying behaviours. To be effective, anti-bullying strategies need to include (a) respecting individual differences, (b) understanding social group dynamics, (c) attending to teacher-student relationships, and (d) including a consideration of the social-emotional environment as a part of responsible educational pedagogy. Subsequent consultations with teacher colleagues and participants supported the validity of these findings.

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