Research using video recordings can gather more information about bullying than is the case with interviews and surveys

In The Hidden Life of Girls: Games of Stance, Status, and Exclusion (2006), Marjorie Harness Goodwin has published transcripts of video recordings of social interactions among elementary students in playgrounds and classrooms.

The transcripts are detailed and easy to follow. With regard to how they are prepared, Goodwin notes (p. 263) that “Data are transcribed according to the system developed by Gail Jefferson, outlined in Sacks et al. (1974:731-733).”

Her approach stands in contrast to ethnographic research based solely on interviews, vignettes, and surveys.

Data generated from interview situations may, in some circumstances, be of limited value

Goodwin notes (pp. 263-264):

Much of the work on language in the peer groups and identity construction has relied on data generated from interview situations.

Edley and Wetherell’s (1995, 1997) project analyzing identity construction among middle class white 18-19-year-old boys at a single sex independent school in the UK as well as Widdicombe and Woffitt’s (1995) study of “the language of youth subcultures” in the UK are based largely on interview data, interaction between the research subjects and the researcher.

Similarly, in psychology, much of the work on peer aggression (Underwood 2003) is based on interviews or vignettes told to a researcher; consequently, we have no picture of what the actual activity of verbal bullying or social aggression looks like.

As I have argued elsewhere (Goodwin 1997b:112), rather than accepting reports as instances of the events they describe, social science researchers need to seriously investigate the process of reporting itself as a situated conversational activity.

Debra Pepler and Wendy Craig

Please note, however, that surveys are not totally without value in this field. Debra Pepler of York University and the Hospital for Sick Children and Wendy Craig of Queen’s University have done extensive research related to bullying in Canadian schools. They have used video recordings as a key part of their research. Further information about research – and evidence-based programs that seek to effectively address bullying in schools – is available at the PREVnet website.

Video recorded fieldwork

The video recording that occurs in the fieldwork described in Goodwin’s 2006 study can be characterized as a genre of filmmaking. The camera work is in preference to gathering data primarily from interviews, surveys, and unrecorded observations.

A traditional form of documentary involves decomposing ordinary life into elements that can then be reconstructed as a representation of reality.

A film sequence made by a linguistic anthropologist would record a specified social interaction that occurs in “ordinary life.” A reconstruction in the form of editing to create a series of clips with a specified message does not, however, follow as a next step.

Data transcripts

Instead, the film sequence is recreated as the equivalent of a storyboard, in the form of a data transcript. Whatever occurred in the interaction is reverse-engineered.

An attempt is made to determine the steps whereby actions are completed, messages are telegraphed, and feelings are expressed, within the social interaction that has been electronically recorded.

The recorded sequence is presented as a reverse-engineered data transcript. The original footage becomes the subject of a film review. That is to say, the transcript, to which is added the accompanying commentary, functions as a film review. It’s a review of a film that the reader of the film review does not see, but gets the opportunity to imagine.

As a final step, the project is published as a research study.

We can add that the data transcripts can also be characterized as a form of literary non-fiction.

Many options are available for the recording of students at play

In a note (p. 263 of The Hidden Life of Girls (2006)), Goodwin remarks that Pellegrini and Blatchford (2000) use remote video cameras and radio microphones to record children’s behaviour. “They note that providing audio records of language is superior to observing or recording playground behavior from a car, but comment that children aged 11-12 are often reticent when wearing microphones.”


By way of recording techniques, a next step might involve the use of close-ups, which as far as I know were not used in Goodwin’s research.

Split-second eye movements can serve as critical “beats” in a conversation, in particular in a conversation involving strong feelings, even – or perhaps especially – when people are standing at some distance from each other. Such nonverbal body language cues can occur very quickly and can have a strong impact on the direction in which a social interaction proceeds. Close-ups have the capacity to capture such details, which might be missed when a given interaction is filmed as a medium shot.

One option would be to film an interaction with multiple video cameras, from multiple angles. Close-ups, medium shots, and wide shots can be recorded by separate cameras. GoPro cameras worn by students can address the logistics involved with the simultaneous acquisition of a such a wide range of shots during a social interaction.

The resulting recordings can be converted into computer animated sequences, in which the voice tracks are retained. Additional dialogue recording can provide pseudonyms for students named on the sound track. In this way privacy of information, with regard to student identities, can be maintained. The animated sequences can be released alongside the detailed transcripts and associated research reports.

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