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West Blazes Trail in Communications with Bullying Research

Emerson Communication Studies Professor Richard West. Photo/Molly Loughman
By Molly Loughman

A recognized trailblazer in the communication field, Professor Richard West’s dedication to researching and writing about family communication is evident in his latest publication, The Routledge Handbook of Communication and Bullying – the first comprehensive book to address this topic.

The former president of both the National Communication Association (NCA) and the Eastern Communication Association (ECA), West, now a director of the Academic Board for the Global Listening Center in London, was able to solicit research from scholars around the world to contribute to his recent book, which also includes excerpts from those who’ve experienced bullying first-hand.

Bullying, a communication practice, has traditionally been in the domain of two different disciplines: sociology and education. The internationally published text covers the gamut of bullying and its manifestation among different groups, ranging from pre-kindergarten kids to senior citizens.

“We marry the academic and the practical side in the book, which makes it a unique volume of essays – there’s nothing like this in the field of communication,” West said. “There’s a lot of anecdotal essays, first-person essays, editorials and shaming [on bullying].” The book consists of applied research that can be used by stakeholders, constituencies, policy-makers, and others who regularly deal with bullying.

“We found the threat of bullying is really hijacked, to a large extent, by popular culture and that the academic world was frequently secondary in the conversations. We provided the academic language, but also have first-person narratives woven throughout the book.”

Raising the Volume for the Voices

The 316-page book, edited by West and Christina S. Beck, examines the intricacies of bullying — who does the bullying, behaviors related to bullying, and initiatives or programs undertaken to understand bullying and resolve it.

“What we realized is this is ultimately a communication behavior,” West said, “not only the verbal and nonverbal act of bullying itself,  but its effects and reverberations across different communities.  The book covers how people talk about bullying, what kinds of behavior people undertake to stop bullying, and outline what’s going from  school districts to corporate board rooms.”

The book underscores the notion that there is not a “one size fits all” approach to the issue.

The international nature of The Routledge Handbook of Communication and Bullying is also important, emphasized West. The book addresses topics that transcend the U.S., including cyberbullying and workplace bullying, and authors from India, Canada, Japan, among other countries contributed to the anthology.

“The book tries to unravel the complexities of bullying across the globe, and we clearly recognize we have a lot more to do to further understand this devastating behavior,” West said.

“It would be rather naive for us to think a Eurocentric, Westernized model of bullying is the way we should go without opening this up to a global audience. If we expect to have a global understanding of this, which all of us do, we have to make a global contribution.”

West has chaired or served on over two dozen ECA committees and is a recipient of ECA’s Distinguished Service Award as well as being recognized as a Distinguished Research Fellow.

“In any field of study, we rarely do research that makes a difference. To do research that makes difference, you have to have something that does more than just sit on a shelf. You have to do something you can put into action, that people can have a conversation about – that’s actionable, translatable research…This book is research that tries to make a difference in the everyday lives of people literally around the world,” said West.

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