Documentary to Shoot this Fall (ABIBS Research Update)

Great news!

I have navigated the maze that is IRB paperwork, and got approved! I will begin my documentary project (stage 2 of ABIBS—Anthropologically Based Investigation of Bullying in Schools), in which I interview public school educators in Alachua County about bullying, this fall as supervised, UF affiliated research (#2013-U-486; sounds like a submarine, doesn’t it?). I have also elected the thesis option for my Masters, and the documentary serves as both preliminary research for my dissertation research, and part of my thesis research. My substantial academic reading, combined with my content analysis of news articles, will inform the documentary. What’s different about this project from similar projects (namely, the documentary Bully, which I found to be excessively melodramatic and uninformative) is its grounding in anthropology, specifically the tenets of labeling and game theories, and its attention to the educators, who are often villainized or simply ignored in news media coverage of school bullying, as I confirmed in my media research. The documentary will be short (15-30 minutes, depending on the amount of footage I get), and interview-based, although I may provide helpful graphics, Davis Guggenheim-style.

So here’s where I am:

Project Statement

This project intends to examine bullying as a sociocultural phenomenon and contextualize its occurrence and treatment in an anthropological framework. As outlined below, I will examine the mediated definition of and response to bullying, the bullying culture in relation to the social negotiations of children, and the ramifications and effectiveness of anti-bullying legislation, media, and programs. Through such examination, I hope to develop a sociopsychological explanation, within an anthropological framework, of the structural and ideological characteristics of the United States that allow for bullying and harassment, and assess whether bullying has responded to anti-bullying programs.

from the proposal:

The best tool of anthropological research is the interview that is grounded in a comprehensive portrait of the institution or community. Thus, at this early stage of research, I would like to gather data from school administrators, teachers, and parents via informal interviews, and contextualize this data in Alachua County’s policies and history. Information gathered in this stage will appear in the documentary film, but not in any paper to be submitted to a peer-reviewed journal. The informal interviews will help me do three things:

  • Develop my research questions for a formal paper.

  • Locate additional persons interested in further participation in the research in later stages.

  • Guide discussion prompts and points of argument to be used in the documentary film and educational materials for use in anti-bullying workshops and awareness events.


  1. Understand the mediated social construction of school bullying, to inform future research on how it influences school policy and educators’ responses. Check!
  2. Interview educators to gain their valuable perspective and understand the intersections among policy, law, anti-bullying awareness, and educational philosophy and ethos. This fall!
  3. Develop an anthropological model of violence, aggression, and social negotiations that is applicable to (a) children and (b) a school institution. Currently: see below.
  4. Conduct formal surveys to assess bullying and its sociopsychological factors.
  5. Interview children to gain their perspectives on bullying behavior and factors, and anti-bullying policy and workshops.
  6. Develop workshops, seminars, and films to effectively tackle the bullying problem.

Up next:

The time has  come to assemble my thesis proposal, which requires a specifically anthropological examination of human violence. This past semester, I conducted a literature review of bioanth and primatology articles on aggression and violence, but literature on non-pathological violence among children is limited to the psychology journals. Currently, I am building the lit review/theoretical orientation of my proposal using the research I did for class and the work of some “pop” anthropologists, including Steven Pinker.

The time has also come to develop the “operative” parts of a funding proposal. One might expect interdisciplinary projects to be eligible for even more types of funding, but in fact the opposite is true. Because this project can influence and inform more pragmatic efforts, such as anti-bullying workshops—and I hope it does!—that is an important aspect of its social and economic worth, according to funding agencies. Its unusual fusion of filmmaking and anthropology as applied to education policy and without, as of now, a pragmatic outlet, excludes it from several fruitful sources. I welcome suggestions/links.


Special thanks to Drs. Ieva Jusionyte, Scott Nygren, and Rick Stepp of UF for all their support and assistance!