Considering: Oppressed Group Behavior

[This content was originally published on October 15, 2018 at The Ink On The Page.]


While analyzing data for my PoC academic librarians low morale study, I came across behaviors that seemed to fall under the realm of oppressed group behavior (OGB) – known more colloquially as “eating one’s young” the “one” being the profession and the “young” meaning not necessarily the age of the target, but the lesser years of professional experience the target has (e.g., a new member of a profession).

The behavior and term was studied, coined, and eventually applied  to the nursing field by researchers Friere (1970) and Roberts (1983). The Centers for Disease Control sums up the definition of oppressed group behavior in the nursing profession:

Nurses as a group display some characteristics of being oppressed including low self-esteem and feelings of powerlessness. When an individual or group not only feels but is relatively powerless compared to another, they can take it out on one another within the oppressed group, especially on someone even less powerful. (2013)

It goes on to share the outcomes of such behavior, showing the emphasis on the links of power and professional hierarchies:

In addition to the systemic factors described by the Joint Commission … incidents of verbal abuse or violence between physicians (or other authority figures) and nurses can leave nurses feeling powerless, especially when they believe their options for recourse are limited by an administrative process that will side with the more powerful abuser. The nurse’s frustration and suppressed anger can end up being redirected laterally against her coworkers or downward against CNAs and other less powerful staff. (2013)

In oppressed professional groups that manifest OGB, the main ways more experienced group members abuse newer members include silent observations of newer group members’ struggling to fulfill job-related duties and/or acclimate to the workplace and berating or ostracizing newer group members who try to avoid abuse that is generally seen by established group members as a rite of passage. You can see an example of the former behavior (although highly dramatized) here: 

While my current PoC study includes OGB-centric data, my work with folks in the low-morale course suggests that OGB may be a phenomenon in LIS as a whole. Considering some of the similarities LIS shares with nursing profession (feminization, LIS/Librarian perceptions, credentialing in the field), I believe OGB deserves exploration and attention as it relates to  and impacts our practice, and in our professional literature.

Works Cited

Centers for Disease Control. (2013). Workplace violence prevention for nurses. Retrieved from

Friere, P. (1970). Pedagogy of the oppressed. New York : Herder and Herder.

Roberts, S.J. (1983). Oppressed group behavior: implications for nursing. Advances in Nursing Science, 5(4): 21 -30.


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