The application of a Foucauldian approach to tackle school bullying: a critique

Elizabeth Nassem

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Bullying remains a serious problem in schools in England and internationally despite the plethora of research, interventions and policies which aim to address it. The majority of research and interventions are based on a traditional approach where school bullying is constructed as involving a clear imbalance of power between individuals. Recently there has been an increase in researchers using a Foucauldian approach where power is not held by individuals but operates through institutional and social norms which influence thoughts and behaviour, and can contribute to bullying. Most of this research has focused on how the school culture contributes to bullying. This article initiates a critical discussion about the extent to which Foucault’s work can be applied to understand and tackle school bullying which previous research has not fully examined. The practical issues discussed include punishment; and conflict between pupils, and between pupils and teachers. Strategies include schools de-centralising decision-making centres for pupils to exercise their voice and pupils being enabled to transform themselves. Foucault has been criticised for not providing clear guidance on how to resist power and focuses primarily on resistance at the individual rather than collective level. However, he provides implications for how individuals can resist power through their relations with others within an institution which many feel dominated. It is concluded that a Foucauldian approach is more nuanced, reflective and flexible than the traditional approach which can consider the influence of inequalities. Further research is needed to develop practical strategies for schools from Foucault’s work.
Original languageEnglish
JournalPastoral Care in Education
Publication statusPublished - 25 Oct 2023


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