The making and unmaking of a bullying victim

Year: 2018

Author: Tholander, Michael

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

School bullying research is dominated by quantitative, psychological studies. Such studies have equipped us with valuable insights into the phenomenon, but very often from a strictly individualistic perspective, and isolated from the lived pedagogical context in which bullying takes place. In contrast, this study adopts an interactional perspective on bullying, and performs detailed analyses of naturalistic data collected from a specific pedagogical practice.
More specifically, I perform a case study that focuses on a video-recorded meeting in which a 13-year old student, in front of her teacher and parents, discloses that she is being bullied. Despite being one of the most recommended strategies to stop school bullying, numerous studies show that students often do not disclose that they are being targeted. Against this background, my study provides a unique opportunity to follow, not only how a student does indeed disclose that she is being bullied, but also how the teacher and the parents in turn respond to this disclosure.
I begin by focusing on how the student frames her own victimhood narrative. The result shows that she portrays herself as an ideal victim, i.e., as someone who is mistreated despite being kind, innocent, willing to change, etc. After this, I point to a number of discursive repertoires that primarily the teacher draws on in her response to the student’s narrative. Through these repertoires, the teacher manages to: (1) dismantle the student’s narrative, (2) make the putative bullying seem more like mundane school matters, and (3) defend her own status as a professional teacher. Thus, ultimately the student is silenced and transformed into a rejected victim.
More generally, the use of the identified repertoires, or similar ones, might explain why victims of bullying often complain about the lack of adequate support from teachers. Through such repertoires, students are exposed to a capillary form of power which is probably very hard to resist. Indeed, they may even be subjected to a kind of secondary victimization in which the original suffering is exacerbated through inadequate responses by third parties.
Three implications for teachers in similar positions are highlighted: (1) scrutinize your own discursive environment, (2) take every victimhood narrative seriously, and (3) solve the problem there and then. By pointing to these implications, I hope to contribute to social change and to show that education research matters.