The Postemotional Bully


Stjepan Mestrovic

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  • Chapters
  • Front Matter
  • Back Matter
  • Subject Index
  • Copyright


    To Ivy, Bella, and our dog, Chester


    Stjepan Mestrovic has always been worth reading, and here is Mestrovic at his very best. Written with passion and principle, this book builds on the sociological tradition to explore the darkness of these postemotional times. A shining example of sociology as it should be – and so rarely is.

    Keith Tester, University of Hull, UK

    Stjepan Mestrovic presents a thought-provoking and critical piece of cultural sociology on the contemporary social issue of bullying rooted in the everyday but with recognition of the influential belief of historical forms of barbarism. He draws many vivid examples from social media, popular culture and the distressing but his close observations from the fallout and confrontations of the Abu Ghraib prison abuses in Iraq. Mestrovic keenly frames bullying as part and parcel of the paradoxes of a postemotional age, society and zeitgeist comprised and sustained by interpersonal estrangement, personal anxiety, and artificial and standardized emotions.

    Marcus Aldredge, Iona College, USA

    Mestrovic’s The Postemotional Bully is a Maussian gift. This deeply intellectual and theoretically informed exploration of the Bully as a universal character-type, shows the deep tie-in between the Modern’s transformation of how we experience emotions, and demonstrates Western culture’s simultaneous attraction too and fear of the bullying impulse. Through the lens of a wide range of neglected sociologists, philosophers and anthropologists, this work offers-up the first bridge to understand the social and cultural roots of bullying and thus demands from the reading public, a reciprocal obligation to explore, understand and change our own role in coming to understand the bully in us.

    Keith Kerr, Quinnipiac University, USA

    In lay terms, The Postemotional Bully provides a practical and up-to-date application of classical theoretical statements with regards to coercive forms of power in industrialized society. Furthermore, the text exposes how the role of deconstruction and mass emotional manipulation has permeated postmodern culture. As the voice of “postemotional theory”, Mestrovic provides readers with an essential and unique perspective for interpreting a range of human activities from common everyday interactions, world events, and public policy, in order to better discern the proliferation of institutionalized barbarianism and broad and subtle forms of bullying.

    Michael D. Royster, Prairie View A&M University, USA

    Stjepan Mestrovic offers a timely, new perspective for exploring the social problem of bullying. Contrary to the assertion that modern life appeals to the better angels of our nature, Mestrovic observes that modern society has accelerated serious dysfunctional and disruptive human tendencies. The act of bullying is not just carried out by the violent person hiding in the shadows of the classroom, the workplace, the boardroom, or a government office. Mestrovic demonstrates that the act of bullying hides in plain sight in the daily acts of fraud perpetrated within modern society: sham political processes, the abusive manipulation of consumers’ emotions by advertisers, peer group opinion that acts like a poltergeist within the machine that is the Internet, the relentless trend to make every person fungible or replaceable, and media saturation that becomes a type of electronic solitary confinement for most people. The Postemotional Bully is a welcome contribution to ongoing debates about the character and future of modern society.

    Ronald Lorenzo, Blinn College, USA

    About the Author

    Stjepan G. Mestrovic is Professor of Sociology at Texas A&M University. He is the author of Postemotional Society (Sage, 1996) and 19 other books in the areas of social theory, culture, and various forms of deviance. He has also served as an expert witness for sociology in trials covering genocide to murder and hazing in courts ranging from the International Criminal Court in the Hague to United States military courts-martials.

    Preface and Acknowledgments

    The following is a theoretical exploration of bullying and hazing in the contemporary social world. I review major classical, modern, and postmodern theories with an eye toward understanding bullying, broadly defined as the use of force by individuals as well as groups and social institutions. This journey across a little over a century of social theorizing reveals conceptualizations of seismic social movements from community to society, charisma to rationalization, individualism to cultures of sameness, and disenchantment. The dominance of media and social media has replaced parents and adult figures as agents of socialization. What happens to emotions, charisma, and community in screen image culture or what Marshall McLuhan called the electronic age? I propose that the result has been the rise of postemotional society.

    In Chapters 5, 6, and 7, I apply what I call postemotional social theory toward an understanding of three case studies of bullying and hazing. The aim is to show that postemotionalism holds more explanatory power than theories of modernity or postmodernity for understanding contemporary bullying, and that classical social theory needs to be updated to account for screen image culture. The empirical material I use in these chapters is all drawn from court transcripts, which are considered public, and from observations during my attendance at the public trials. I do not draw upon any privileged information.

    I would like to thank the following persons for discussions and some research assistance pertaining to this study: Apryl Williams, Ronald Lorenzo, and my daughters Ivy and Victoria (Bella) Mestrovic. Victoria was particularly helpful in making me understand the cultural significance of the television series Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I would also like to thank my students across several sections of theory courses that I taught for their discussions, insights, and suggestions.


    The Puritan wanted to work in a calling; we are forced to do so. (Max Weber)

  • Name index

    • Baudrillard, Jean, 44, 56, 7980
    • Bauman, Zygmunt, 51, 71
    • Benjamin, Walter, 11, 4849
    • Coleman, Max, 111
    • Comte, Auguste, 1415, 42
    • Darwin, Charles, 9, 1418
    • Dostoevsky, Fyodor, 5761
    • Durkheim, Emile, 4, 811, 1415, 34
    • Espinas, Alfred, 23
    • Foucault, Michel, 115116
    • Giddens, Anthony, 13
    • James, William, 2123, 92
    • Jesus, 5759
    • Kerr, Keith, 25
    • Marx, Karl, 4647
    • Mauss, Marcel, 69, 14, 17, 26, 34, 64, 72, 102, 119
    • McLuhan, Marshall, 2326, 31, 5355, 100, 118
    • Mead, George Herbert, 2122
    • Mills, C. Wright, 2, 4, 25
    • Obama, Barack, 2, 26, 44
    • Orwell, George, 12, 118
    • Park, Robert, 23
    • Parsons, Talcott, 42, 102
    • Pyyhtinen, Oilli, 6
    • Riesman, David, 11, 17, 2530, 5355, 118
    • Ritzer, George, 17, 3437, 50, 102
    • Rojek, Chris, 37
    • Rorty, Richard, 51, 71, 92
    • Rosenau, Pauline, 44
    • Rumsfeld, Donald 74
    • Simmel, Georg, 78, 15, 23
    • Sorokin, Pitirim, 119
    • Spencer, Herbert, 15
    • Stouffer, Samuel, 74
    • Tonnies, Ferdinand, 1719
    • Veblen, Thorstein, 2, 58, 11, 22
    • Waters, Michael, 88
    • Weber, Max, 11, 3441
    • Zimbardo, Philip, 7374

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