Bullying as a Social Process

A close-up of a young girl looking sad.

A common explanation among students is that bullying occurs because someone is different or deviant in some way. Social norms are produced in school and non-conformity to these norms may result in bullying with low-status students — especially so-called ‘loners’ and ‘nerds’ — being the typical targets.  

Bullying appears to function as a self-serving and socially inclusive ritual where the bullies co-construct what is considered “normal”. For victims, loss of belonging, self-deprecation and identity struggling follows closely upon the sense of becoming socially discredited. 

Qualitative research provides opportunities to study bullying and peer harassment as social processes, interactions and meaning-making in the everyday context of particular settings. It offers the possibility of developing a deep understanding of the culture and group processes of bullying and the participants’ perspectives on peer harassment as well. It gives participants opportunities to discuss their own understanding and experiences of bullying in their own words.

The aim of this project was to examine school bullying as social processes, interactional patterns, social identities, group dynamics, and participants’ interpretations and shared understandings in everyday school life. Guided by methods from grounded theory, field research, and qualitative interviewing, social interaction patterns and meaning-making are investigated in order to understand and explain how school bullying occurs, is maintained, and changed. This research project (2010-2015) was funded by the Swedish Research Council.