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

The Tolerance Generation: High School, Inequality, and the Anti-Bullying Era draws from 127 intensive interviews and two school years of live and digital ethnography at a rural high school in the Northeast to explore how inequality impacts young people’s experiences with bullying and the anti-bullying movement. I find that inequality shapes bullying practices, content, and response. While the teens most likely to be bullied are LGBTQ, gender non-conforming, low-income, and youth of color in this school context, those most likely to claim their experiences with conflict as bullying and report them to school officials are heterosexual, white, and class-privileged. Further, I find that though the content of bullying 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. Offering an innovative ethnographic account of inequalities and schooling in the digital age, The Tolerance Generation illustrates the tension between the school’s competing discourses of anti-bullying and tolerance and the varying strategies for recognition employed by the youth on their receiving end. 

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.