The community-based view of bullying
Research shows that bullying is caused by dysfunctional group dynamics, where children develop a community based on excluding others from it.
Historically, educators and scholars predominantly approached bullying as a problem limited to the children perceived to be involved. As bullying research took root in the 1970s, it focused exclusively on the “bully” and the “victim” as stereotypes characterised by identifiable personality traits.
In the 1990s, this perspective evolved to include the impact of “bystanders” who may have witnessed the bullying episode. Meanwhile, the potential influence of other children or adults in their community, or of their shared culture, remained largely unexplored.
However, a growing body of research shows that even the post-90s perspective is too narrow.
One such study is eXbus (Exploring bullying in schools). Conducted by the Danish School of Education (DPU) at Aarhus University, this long-term research project explores how instances of school bullying develop, are maintained, and can potentially be dismantled.
longing to belong
Prominent eXbus researchers Dorte Marie Søndergaard, Helle Rabøl Hansen, Jette Kofoed and others have discovered that bullying stems from children’s innate need to feel they belong to their class or group community. And if they feel unsafe and sense potential isolation from their community, social exclusion anxiety can arise.
In turn, affected children may attempt to deal with their fear of exclusion by forming new groups, whose shared insecurities and need to belong lead them to exclude others.
That is why bullying tends to reoccur in groups where children feel insecure and excluded. By contrast, children’s communities that are characterised by tolerance and inclusion leave little room for bullying.
The key to preventing bullying – instead of only trying in vain to cure the problem after the fact – therefore lies in focusing on developing a caring, tolerant and inclusive culture.