How many of us can recall some incident in our school years when we were subject to what we would call bullying… or where we bullied others, stepped in to prevent bullying or anxiously looked on, feeling helpless to intervene?
If there is one central message in this stimulating book by Peter K. Smith it is that while much has been achieved, bullying remains problematic, not least because of the emergence of variants such as cyber-bullying that raise new issues of definition and approach.
This is not surprising as the bullying research programme, as Smith calls it, is relatively new. While its origins can be traced to the early 1970s serious international research only got underway in 1989. Twenty-five years on there is still no universal definition of what constitutes bullying.
Smith refers to its ‘relatively well-defined meaning’ as ‘behaviour that intentionally harms another person, typically with repetition and an imbalance of power’ but cites numerous studies where one or more of these criteria is missing.
Then there is the wide choice of forms of data collection – questionnaire, nomination, interview, focus group, incident report/audit, diary/blog, drawings and observation – all with their own strengths and weaknesses. As the author says, ‘All these issues often make it difficult to make comparisons across different studies. They also mean that absolute prevalence figures are rather meaningless when taken in isolation.’
Despite all this the good news is that the increased awareness of bullying has resulted in effective intervention strategies, several of which Smith describes: ‘A theoretical debate about the relative virtues of more disciplinary measures or more counselling-based approaches remains unresolved, but in practice many schools now have some version of initial serious talks and restorative approaches, or what in the US might b called “authoritative discipline”.’
The descriptor ‘comprehensive’ hardly does justice to this book. In 200 pages it covers every imaginable aspect of bullying, from definition to anti-bullying programmes, drawing on 25 years of international practice and research. For those who want to delve deeper there are 27 pages of references to guide your way.
It’s an impressive and illuminating record of how far we have come and the complexities of the subject. If you are contemplating research of your own or just thinking of devising a programme for your school I would strongly recommend it.
Peter K. Smith – Sage – ISBN: 9781847879059
Reviewed by Lauren Archer
This book is an excellent read which address and very serious issue. I would say this a must have on any book shelf.