‘School Bullying and Power Relations in Vietnam’
which he successfully defended at Linköping University in Sweden, in the Child Studies program
on Friday 23 September 2011.
Following are the notes from Dr. Oscar Salemink, Professor in the Anthropology of Asia, Department of Anthropology, Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Copenhagen.
The dissertation is based on ethnographic research in two Haiphong lower secondary schools, but also presents data based on questionnaires suggesting that bullying is an extremely wide-spread phenomenon in Vietnam (from an international comparative perspective) – an impression strengthened by some recent group suicides among school children in Vietnam.
Horton adopts a Foucaultian perspective on bullying which looks at the institutional context of the school in which bullying happens.
In particular, he sees schools as disciplinary institutions where children are under frequent surveillance, and try to deal with discipline, surveillance, boredom and fatigue in different ways.
One way is bullying, which is defined as forcing someone else to do something that s/he does not want to do – for instance: sharing study results or materials, looking out for the teacher, going to the school cafeteria, or acting as ‘barn owl’ (telling the teacher about behavior of other kids), which is interpreted by kids as justifying bullying.
With his fine-grained ethnographic approach, Horton moves away from crude bad–good or perpetrator–victim dichotomies, and analyzes behavior in terms of power relations.
Horton pays special attention to teacher-student relations, seeing bullying going in various directions: not just student–student, but also teacher–student and students–teacher.
He also pays ample attention to mechanisms of silencing and silence among students and teachers alike, which suggests that the usual reflex – more surveillance – without improved teacher–student relations and different teaching styles might actually be counterproductive.
Horton’s dissertation sheds new light on a number of issues – not just on school bullying but also on contemporary education in Vietnam, on youth behavior and gender practices (as bullying is a gendered practice), and on the relation between children and adults.
Paul Horton was supervised by Professor Helle Rydstrøm – whose work is well-known in this list – and Professor Jeff Hearn.
Committee members included Dr. Neil Duncan, Dr. Ulla Ambrosius Madsen, Professor Bengt Sandin and myself – thus bringing together different types of disciplinary expertise.
Paul Horton will take up a postdoctoral fellowship at Lund University, also in Sweden.