Session 6: Reflections on the Source of Bullying

1st Global Conference

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Friday 6th November – Sunday 8th November 2009
Salzburg, Austria


Bullying – The Root and Branch of Oppression
Dave Hufton
Leeds Metropolitan University, United Kingdom

In this paper I begin by talking about bullying from a personal perspective. I am not a human rights lawyer. I don’t need to be. I know when my rights have been impugned. I know how I feel: fearful, angry, frightened, aggressive, torn, undermined and belittled. Sometimes one of these feelings will be in the ascendant; but often what I feel is an amalgam of everything that I cannot resolve. I just feel sick, undermined, passively seething. Sometimes I even wonder if I long to kill or be killed. Usually it starts with words – syllabic razor shards of malice, hatred or the lethal poison of indifference, but it becomes easier to understand and deal with when I am openly attacked. Then I can see my ‘enemy’; I can plan my counter attack and my defence. But what do I do when it’s ‘just’ words? I was taught that ‘words can never hurt me’ but what lies we tell our children! Words were ever the attack I never saw coming, the stealth bombers that flew in under the radar and tripped the wires of my undermining. How many times did well-meaning teachers and solicitous parents explain that, ‘you can only be bullied if you are afraid. It’s your fault if you allow people to bully you’, or alternatively that, ‘Bullies are just cowards, who were probably bullied themselves.’

Bullying is a near universal phenomenon; we all bully and are bullied. I will explore some truths about the human condition, the nature of self and groups; about manipulation and seduction; about power and its abuse. I will touch on Allport’s seminal work ‘The nature of prejudice’ and especially on his ‘scale of discrimination’, which suggests that words underpin and enable all forms of discrimination, from playground bullying to murder and genocide.

Download Draft Conference Paper (pdf)


Sovereign Authority or Leviathan Bully: Alexandre Kojève on Distinguishing the Use and Abuse of Power
Murray S. Y. Bessette
Department of Government, Institute for Regional Analysis and Public Policy, Morehead State University, USA

Thomas Hobbes claims humans love freedom and dominion over others, which is to say they love influencing the behavior of others while themselves being free from others’ influence. Since every individual by nature would be the bully, peace requires the Sovereign to be the greatest bully of all – the Leviathan. Jean-Jacques Rousseau observes that the determinative influence of government and religion, of laws and morality, is everywhere and always a fact; individuals are not free to behave simply as they see fit, rather, human behavior is subject to constraint whether political, moral, or psychological. The important political question is whether or not constraint can be made legitimate, whether authority and force are different, albeit related, things. The phenomenon of bullying, or the abuse of power, then, immediately raises the question of the use of power, or rather, the proper use of power and is, therefore, another means of exploring the problems of just and unjust rule, of legitimate and illegitimate authority, that have long been a theme of political philosophy. Few theorists have examined the question “What is authority?,” either taking it for granted or dismissing it out of hand. Alexandre Kojève, in “La notion de l’autorité,” identifies the four theories of authority (the theological, the Platonic, the Aristotelian, and the Hegelian) that have been elaborated throughout history and argues both that each is irreducible to the others and that all together are exclusive of any other. Moreover, he sketches the necessary consequences for the political, moral, and psychological spheres of authority properly understood. In the final analysis, it is only when we come to understand what authority is and how authoritative power is used that we then can distinguish between the use and abuse of power.

Download Draft Conference Paper (pdf)


Bullying in School – The Dark Side of Human Nature? An Anthropological Examination on how Bullying Gives Pleasure
Rita Li
University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong

Bullying is basically an act of gaining pleasure by making other people suffer (intentionally or unintentionally). School bullying has gained media attention in recent years. Researches showing elementary school children are suffering from bullying. If even school children can be bullies and capable of doing evils at such a young age, is it due to the dark side of human nature (or in the Christians’ word: the original sin) ?

In the following paper first I will examine from an anthropological view point on why human being would draw pleasure from bullying (while for animals ‘bullying’ or the exerting of power is about life preservation). Bullying became pleasurable only after certain point of development in the human society.

Bullying in school is a complex issue and I will examine it in different aspects. While some adults may assume school is an innocent place, the truth is, children or adolescences while growing up are especially vulnerable to peer-pressure and need group acceptance. Another reason why school bullying is widespread all over the world is the bullies got away without being punished. The peers of the victims often keep silence as they are afraid to become victims themselves. Some school authorities think it is only ‘kids fooling around’.

Although bullying in school only gets a lot more media attention in the last 10-15 years, it has existed for a much longer time. I will also look at the relationship between bullying and the development of public school system. Urbanization and the growth of school size also change the relationship within students (and with their teachers), which may not be the cause of bullying but it makes bullying easier to happen while the human relationship grows more distant.

The point of this paper is to have a better understanding on bullying and subsequently I hope it would help stopping it.

Download Draft Conference Paper (pdf)