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ERIC Number: EJ773356
Record Type: Journal
Publication Date: 2007-Sep
Pages: 28
Abstractor: Author
Reference Count: 55
ISSN: ISSN-0013-1881
Peer Devaluation in British Secondary Schools: Young People's Comparisons of Group-Based and Individual-Based Bullying
O'Brien, Catherine
Educational Research, v49 n3 p297-324 Sep 2007
Background: Bullying has usefully been described as demonstrations of the norms of young people's social groups, outlawing and punishing those who do not conform. The way a person appraises bullying strongly influences the coping process, how the person reacts emotionally and bystander behaviour. A social-psychological perspective was used to study young people's representations of group-based and individual-based bullying. Purpose: The study explores the usefulness of making a distinction not investigated in the bullying literature: that between abuse based on individual characteristics and abuse in terms of group membership, such as one's race or sex as a whole. Much of the existing bullying literature contains an implicit value judgement that group-based bullying is worse, and therefore more difficult to cope with, because it maligns not only the individual, but also the individual's entire reference group. The aim of this study is to understand young people's evaluations of the severity of the two distinguishable bases for being bullied. Sample: A total of 471 students from eight mixed-sex British state secondary schools, divided into 96 groups of five students, aged 11-16 from Years 7, 9 and 11; 54% girls, 46% boys. Four of the schools were in east London, an area of high ethnic mix and low socio-economic status (SES), and four from Cambridgeshire, an area of low ethnic mix and high SES. Design and methods A group-interview methodology was used to elicit young people's appraisals of the two different bases for being bullied. Using a convenience sampling strategy, groups of approximately five students were interviewed between November 2003 and May 2004. Each group generated and ranked pejorative names as more or less severe and were then asked to justify their evaluations. Flyvbjerg's phronetic approach was adopted for data analysis, locating the method between the numerical orientation of quantitative content analysis (involving simple descriptive counts of codes) and the interpretive orientation of grounded theory. Results: Responses only partially support the assumption in the literature; students mentioned many other dimensions upon which evaluations of the severity of bullying are conditional, ranging from social conventions, intention, frequency and truth, to the type of target and the nature of the stigma. Being bullied for group membership entails cognitive sense-making that is identical to that entailed in individual-based bullying on some dimensions, and different on others. Results are interpreted in terms of the general heightened awareness of bullying and racism that permeates schools. Conclusions: The literature's assertions that group-based bullying is more insidious, more damaging and more capable of evoking anger and feelings of injustice than individual-based bullying are not grounded in substantial evidence. The present study of young people's evaluations of group-based bullying compared directly with individual-based bullying found that such assertions represent only a fraction of young people's thinking about school bullying. This research contributes to knowledge about the complex processes through which adolescents are both susceptible to, and protected from, bullying. (Contains 4 tables, 9 figures and 1 note.)
Routledge. Available from: Taylor & Francis, Ltd. 325 Chestnut Street Suite 800, Philadelphia, PA 19106. Tel: 800-354-1420; Fax: 215-625-2940; Web site:
Publication Type: Journal Articles; Reports - Research
Education Level: Secondary Education
Audience: N/A
Language: English
Sponsor: N/A
Authoring Institution: N/A
Identifiers - Location: United Kingdom (England); United Kingdom (London)