A Place to Stand: Intersubjectivity and the Desire to Dominate


DOI: 10.1007/s11217-009-9156-0

Cite this article as:
Jacobson, R.B. Stud Philos Educ (2010) 29: 35. doi:10.1007/s11217-009-9156-0


Research indicates that upwards of 80% of our students experience the devastation of bullying during their school years. To date, research on bullying has mainly employed empirical methodologies, including quantitative and qualitative approaches. This research has largely concluded that bullying is situated in a lack of skill, understanding, or self-control and involves intentional action directed toward status dominance. Based upon these assumptions current anti-bullying strategies focus on training students toward more appropriate avenues of status acquisition and social interaction. Against the backdrop of an actual bullying encounter this paper employs a psychoanalytic philosophical lens to offer a fresh perspective on this enduring educational issue. Employing the philosophical work of Adam Phillips, Jessica Benjamin, and Emmanuel Ghent I ask the question: What is the desire to bully a desire for? Here I consider what is sought and what is at stake in the typical bullying encounter. Through careful analysis I argue that the domination represented in bullying is not simply situated in a lack of social skills or in disregulated aggression––skill deficiencies that require training. Instead, or perhaps in addition to these possibilities, I contend that bullying is foundationally a move toward establishing identity, a self. On this view bullying becomes an activity of self construction through attempted omnipotence. I argue that the status dominance inherent in bullying should be seen not as an end (a tool to secure resources or privilege), but as a means to something more foundational. I conclude that status dominance becomes a means toward the end of providing a secure place for the self to stand. Hence, instead of advocating that we train students to get along better this paper outlines the futility, as well as the insatiability of bullying, opening up new territory focused upon a re-construction of the bully through the relational bonding and differentiation available in the concrete Other.


School bullying Self-construction Domination Preferred self Status Intersubjectivity 

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of EducationNorthwest UniversityKirklandUSA

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