Can you have bullying without a bully?
When I write my name on a piece of paper, the actions I perform can constitute a variety of different acts. For example, depending on the piece of paper on which I write, they might represent the act of making a contract or, if the piece of paper is a cheque, of paying a bill. I am drawing here, on the distinction that Harré and Secord (1972) make between movements, actions and acts in their book The Explanation of Social Behaviour, which can help us to make sense of a variety of aspects of human experience. In the past, for example (Fairbairn, 1995) I used it in helping to unpick the differences between suicide and other acts that resemble, but are different from suicide , including ‘gestured suicide’, in which a person enacts what looks like suicide in the hope and expectation, not of dying, but of having an effect on other people such as moving them to despair or to feelings of guilt; and ‘cosmic roulette’, in which a person acts apparently suicidally, not with the intention of dying, but of inviting God or the cosmos to decide whether he lives. The distinction between acts and actions will also prove useful in thinking about the question of whether we can have bullying without a bully.
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