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What is bullying?

Some definitions are very general, for example, Olweus (1986 and 1991) states that a person is 'being bullied or victimised when he or she is exposed repeatedly and over time, to negative actions on the part of one or more students'. It also involves an imbalance of power, where the victim has difficulty defending him/herself. See the book by Olweus (1993).
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Comment

Definitions like this cover a wide spectrum of behaviour. At one end of this spectrum are minor incidents which may be difficult to distinguish from normal playground 'rough and tumble'. At the other end of the spectrum is behaviour which can cause serious and lasting damage.
(Andrew Mellor)
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Article details

D Olweus (1993) 'Bullying at School: what we know and what we can do', Oxford: Blackwell Publishers Limited. Click the book image to buy it online and read some excerpts.
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Author details

Professor Dan Olweus was the first person to carry out a thorough research project on Professor Dan Olweusbullying. This large, long term study which began in Sweden in 1970, was to provide the inspiration for many who felt that bullying in schools should be challenged rather than accepted. Since the 1970s, his work in this area had continued with force. Indeed, in 1997-99, he led a group in a large project which introduced the widely respected Olweus (anti-bullying) programme to schools in Norway. Professor Olweus is based at the Research Centre for Health Promotion, University of Bergen in Norway and can be contacted by email.

Some definitions emphasise group violence such as Heinemann when he explains that 'mobbing is group violence against a deviant individual.' See Heinemann (1973).
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Comment

The word 'deviant' is used to mean someone who is different in some way from the norm. This definition could cover things like racist or homophobic bullying, as well as the bullying of someone who differs only in being more sensitive than his or her peers.
(Andrew Mellor)
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Article details

P P Heinemann (1973), 'Mobbing. Gruppevold blant barn og voksne', Oslo: Gylendal.

Some definitions are written for research purposes, and are quite tight, such as Roland's definition: 'Bullying is longstanding violence, physical or psychological, conducted by an individual or a group against an individual who is not able to defend himself in the actual situation.' See the book edited by Roland and Munthe.
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Comment

If you want to try to find out how much bullying is going on in a school, it is important that all the people who are asking and answering questions use the word 'bullying' in the same way. For example, some people might answer 'no' to the question, 'have you ever been bullied?' because they see bullying as being physical violence only. Other people might answer yes to the same question because they were once subjected to some minor name-calling, which did not upset them very much at all!
(Andrew Mellor)
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Article details

E Roland (1989) 'A System Oriented Strategy Against Bullying', in the book: 'Bullying: an international perspective', edited by E Roland and E Munthe. This is now out of print.

The first SCRE (The Scottish Council for Research in Education) anti-bullying pack describes bullying as 'the wilful, conscious desire to hurt or threaten or frighten someone else.' See the pack by Johnstone, Munn and Edwards (1992).
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Comment

This type of definition helps children and adults to discuss the moral issues that underlie bullying. Is hurting someone intentionally worse than hurting someone accidentally? Is it 'bullying' if you make fun of someone without meaning to hurt that person? What if that person is very distressed but hides this from you?

However, a definition like this would not be used in research aimed at measuring the incidence of bullying. It is very difficult to prove that any bullying action was intended to cause the harm that it did.
(Andrew Mellor)
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Article details

M Johnstone, P Munn and L Edwards (1992), 'Action Against Bullying: a support pack for schools', Edinburgh: Scottish Council for Research in Education.
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Author details

Pamela MunnProfessor Pamela Munn is Dean of Moray House School of Education at The University of Edinburgh. She is also Director of the Anti-Bullying Network and the Scottish Schools Ethos Network, which are both based at The University of Edinburgh. She has been involved in research projects on bullying, discipline and truancy for a number years. Among her many publications on these topics are two major anti-bullying support packs which were sent to all schools in Scotland and which have received enthusiastic international attention. You may visit the website of Moray House School of Education and also the website of the Scottish Schools Ethos Network.

Some definitions are written with a particular audience in mind and are written in appropriate language. An example of this is Mellor's definition for young people: 'Bullying happens when one person or a group tries to upset another person by saying nasty or hurtful things again and again. Sometimes bullies hit or kick people or force them to hand over money; sometimes they tease them again and again. The person who is being bullied finds it difficult to stop this happening and is worried that it will happen again. It may not be bullying when two people of roughly the same strength have a fight or disagreement.' See the Spotlight paper by A Mellor (1997).
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Comment

This type of definition can be used in research, or it can be used as a starting point in discussion with young people about the nature of bullying. With very young children an illustrated 'story board' could help understanding of the types of behaviour which adults call 'bullying'.
(Andrew Mellor)
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Article details

A Mellor (1997), 'Finding Out About Bullying', SCRE Spotlight Number 43, Edinburgh: Scottish Council for Research in Education. This paper can be downloaded here or requested from the Anti-Bullying Network at The University of Edinburgh.
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Author details

Andrew MellorAt the time of the study, Andrew Mellor was a practising teacher who had received funding from the Scottish Education Department to carry out this project. He has been actively involved in anti-bullying work in Scotland for almost 15 years, speaking at conferences, writing for academic and non-academic audiences and running in-service courses for teachers. He is now manager of the Anti-Bullying Network, which is funded by the Scottish Executive and based at The University of Edinburgh.
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