danah boyd on Bullying asTrue Drama

September 23, 2011
Posted by Jay Livingston

Long ago, David Matza contrasted two styles of studying deviance –  “corrective” and “appreciative.”  The corrective approach is moralistic.  It applies a prior set of values and shows how the subject under review fails to measure up.   It asks, “Why do these people do these bad things, and how can we get them to stop?”  The appreciative approach asks, “How does the world look from the subject’s point of view?”

That was the point of my post about sociologists in Las Vegas.  But if you want a better example, read the op-ed (here) on bullying in today’s Times by danah boyd* and Alice Marwick.  While most writing and research on bullying falls squarely in the corrective camp, boyd and Marwick actually talk with teenagers and listen to them.  A lot.  Mostly online.
 Given the public interest in cyberbullying, we asked young people about it, only to be continually rebuffed. Teenagers repeatedly told us that bullying was something that happened only in elementary or middle school. “There’s no bullying at this school” was a regular refrain. . . .
While teenagers denounced bullying, they — especially girls — would describe a host of interpersonal conflicts playing out in their lives as “drama.” . . . .

At first, we thought drama was simply an umbrella term, referring to varying forms of bullying, joking around, minor skirmishes between friends, breakups and makeups, and gossip. We thought teenagers viewed bullying as a form of drama. But we realized the two are quite distinct. Drama was not a show for us, but rather a protective mechanism for them.
You should really read the whole article.   

boyd has been writing about social media and “drama” for at least five years.   Now that she’s in the newspaper of record, maybe her ideas and observations will get the attention they deserve.

*The Times insists on initial caps, the first time I’ve ever seen her name printed that way.


KR said...

This is going to sound snarky and perhaps even as bringing a fair bit of drama but:

1) I can't take anyone who fights initial caps seriously

2) I think the work has received _generous_ amounts of attention given the elementary nature of the observation. (Anyone who spends any amount of time with kids in high school has already figured this one out.)

3) Not your best post Jay

Jay Livingston said...

KR -- You're probably right, but I don't spend much time with high school kids, and when I have spent time with them, they weren't talking about the dramas in their lives. I also didn't recall any other newspaper articles how kids' definitions and perceptions of bullying differed from those of adults or about the cognitive categories kids used to sort out their lives. But then, I don't get out much.

I too am generally conservative on language (I still write "catalogue" which, right now on my screen is underlined in red). And danah boyd ain't e.e. cummings or Archy and Mehitabel. But it looks as though the assault from texting and non-case-sensitive search engines and other computer stuff is pummeling the upper case into the corner. Things change.