Bullying research has traditionally been dominated by largescale cohort studies focusing on the personality traits of bullies and victims. These studies focus on bullying prevalence, risk and protective factors, and negative outcomes. A limitation of this approach is that it does not explain why bullying happens. Qualitative research can help shed light on these factors. This paper discusses the findings from four mainly qualitative research projects including a systematic review and three empirical studies involving young people to various degrees within the research process as respondents, co-researchers and commissioners of research. Much quantitative research suggests that young people are a homogenous group and through the use of surveys and other large scale methods, generalizations can be drawn about how bullying is understood and how it can be dealt with. Findings from the studies presented in this paper, add to our understanding that young people appear particularly concerned about the role of wider contextual and relational factors in deciding if bullying has happened. These studies underscore the relational aspects of definitions of bullying and, how the dynamics of young people’s friendships can shift what is understood as bullying or not. Moreover, to appreciate the relational and social contexts underpinning bullying behaviors, adults and young people need to work together on bullying agendas and engage with multiple definitions, effects and forms of support. Qualitative methodologies, in particular participatory research opens up the complexities of young lives and enables these insights to come to the fore. Through this approach, effective supports can be designed based on what young people want and need rather than those interpreted as supportive through adult understanding.

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