Boys’ perspectives of peer-bullying in Ghanaian secondary schools
Abakah, George Gustarve Kwesi
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This research explores boys’ perspectives on peer ‘bullying’ in one Ghanaian secondary school. Since the 1970s, empirical studies on bullying in the UK (and other global north countries where the term bullying is commonly used) have received increasing attention (Sondergaard, 2012). This extensive body of work, which is often multidisciplinary, has examined bullying in schools and focused particularly on harassment and aggression amongst peers (Sercombe and Donnelly, 2012). To date however, no empirical studies on understanding bullying in schools in Ghana have been conducted. This exploratory qualitative study is positioned within a constructivist paradigm using a case study design. Twenty boys from one secondary school in Ghana were interviewed using one-to-one semi-structured interviews, which were supplemented by using a vignette (hypothetical scenario) in order to stimulate discussion among boys. In addition, group interviews, observations, school mapping exercises, and interviews with adults were conducted. Data was analysed using thematic analysis. The key findings of this research include the observation that while the boys engaged in interactions and competitive behaviours that have been readily associated with ‘bullying’ in other national settings such as the UK, boys who participated in this study did not use the term bullying (or any similar word) to describe such behaviour. Many of ‘bullying-like’ behaviours amongst the boys were not construed as negative; rather, they tended to be normalised and viewed as a ‘natural’ way in which children mature and grow up. They were also interpreted by boys as a way of gaining status which warranted little or no adult intervention. This study suggests that ‘bullying’ acts were not named or labelled as such because they happened in a friendly and generally supportive atmosphere, where the boys related to each other as members of a cohesive community. The boys coped with such ‘bullying’ behaviours by acting in ways defined as masculine, as expected in their socio-cultural (as well as institutional) context. It followed that those boys who did not play out the expected and quintessential masculine roles were disadvantaged in such interactions. The informal socio-cultural conventions of the current case study school dictated a hierarchical environment where boys (men) were placed on a socially advantageous platform that also expected them to be tough and to hide their vulnerabilities. The current study emphasizes the need to thoroughly examine the socio cultural setting when understanding the phenomenon of ‘bullying’ and related behaviours. This study’s approach, informed by symbolic interactionism (Goffman, 1959), has unveiled an alternative understanding of ‘bullying’ behaviours in the case study school which has some implications for understanding the phenomenon of bullying behaviour more generally in other national settings.