The Tolerance Generation: High School, Inequality, and the Anti-Bullying Era

 Photo: MbDaniel Licensed under CC by 4.0

Photo: MbDaniel Licensed under CC by 4.0

My current book project, The Tolerance Generation: High School, Inequality, and the Anti-Bullying Era, explores how inequality shapes young people’s experiences with bullying and the anti-bullying movement. Offering an innovative ethnographic account that draws from two years of fieldwork at a rural high school in the Northeast, concurrent observations of 75 teens’ social media accounts, 127 intensive interviews, and analysis of bullying reports, policies, and anti-bullying legislation, the manuscript examines how youth participate in and make sense of conflict in the digital age. I find that inequality shapes bullying practices, content, and response. While the teens most likely to be bullied in this school context are LGBTQ, low-income, and/or students of color, these teens are also the least likely to claim their experiences as bullying or report them to school officials. Further, I find that though bullying content is routinely about the regulation of gender, sexual, racial, and class-based inequalities, anti-bullying policies and programs largely ignore the role of inequality in youth conflict. Instead, they individualize bullying and emphasize tolerance–an approach that makes bullying diffuse and contributes to the marginalization of teens who are most often targeted. Interweaving analysis of teens’ virtual and live experiences of high school, the manuscript illustrates the tension between the school’s competing discourses of anti-bullying and tolerance and the varying strategies for recognition employed by youth on their receiving end. Ultimately, I find that teens use technology to create their own, often more effective, anti-bullying strategies, collectively going beyond tolerance to use social media as a site for resistance, community-building, and diversity education.

This study was funded by the National Academy of Education/Spencer Foundation, the National Science Foundation, the American Sociological Association Section on Sexualities, the Center for Research on Families, and the University of Massachusetts Graduate School.