The CSS Blog Network

Mediation Perspectives: Seven Avenues for Research in International Mediation

Peter Wallensteen

Peter Wallensteen speaking at the 2016 International Conference on Mediation.

What are new avenues for research in international mediation? This question was discussed at the International Conference on Mediation, which took place in Basel, Switzerland, in June 2016. It was jointly organized by the Centre for Mediation in Africa (CMA) at the University of Pretoria, the Global South Unit for Mediation (GSUM) at the Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro, and swisspeace, which is an associated institute of the University of Basel.

The utility of the conference lay in its focus on two topics. First, trying to bridge the research–practice gap by having both mediation researchers and practitioners attend the event. Second, the conference sought to bridge the North-South gap by hosting researchers and practitioners from both the Global North and Global South, and thereby helping to rebalance the present research asymmetry that exists in the world.

By drawing on a variety of perspectives, the conference highlighted the following areas of research as being particularly relevant for the further development of the mediation field.

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Brexit and the Binary Bind

UK EU Leave image

UK EU Leave, courtesy Rareclass/Flickr

This article was first published on 1 July 2016 in the Kluwer Mediation Blog series

Perhaps we shouldn’t be too surprised by the whole Brexit affair. I’m not talking about the result of the vote itself, but about the referendum process, the behaviour it engendered, and its aftermath.

All the classic features were present. Classic features of what? Well, of binary processes. Those that offer a win/lose, yes/no, remain/leave outcome, and nothing else. Rather like courts, as it happens.

Of course, I realise that decisions do need to be taken, and referenda are intended to produce a clear picture of the will of the people (only just, on this occasion, but I suppose it’s clear at least). Nothing wrong with that.

But the problem is that for all the desire for clarity and decisiveness, binary processes come with some fairly hefty downsides. And these have been laid bare for all to see in the referendum process. I will mention three.

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Mediation Perspectives: Early Warning/Early Response: Top-Down or Bottom-Up?

Zanzibar. Courtesy Steven leach

Mediation Perspectives is a periodic blog entry provided by the CSS’ Mediation Support Team and occasional guest authors. Each entry is designed to highlight the utility of mediation approaches in dealing with violent political conflicts.

Governments, researchers, and peacebuilders are constantly looking for ways to translate a renewed focus on and heightened awareness of grassroots knowledge into violence prevention and conflict transformation. At present, particular interest has returned to honing and implementing effective Early Warning/Early Response (EWER) mechanisms, but this quest raises a complex question: Should these mechanisms be community-based and originate at the grassroots level or should they be top-down and established as parts of larger structures? Advocates of the grassroots approach, for example, argue that it strengthens and supports the ability of local communities to anticipate and prevent violent conflict, while advocates of large centralized structures acknowledge the benefits of institutional support and broad mandates. The purpose of this blog is to compare these two approaches and ultimately identify the necessity for balance – both approaches have strengths and limitations.

Current trends in the development field suggest that a bottom-up approach, with its emphasis on local initiative and ownership, might be preferable to other options. After all, violence prevention and conflict transformation efforts at the local level can be highly contextual, which is a good thing. Such efforts can more confidently secure a community’s cooperation and support, and they typically identify more nuanced responses, including those that are sensitive to and incorporate traditional practices as well as involving key actors who are positioned to directly intervene in tense situations.

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Mediation Perspectives: Meditation for Mediation?

Walking Meditation in Plum Village, Photo © 2015 Sybille Berchtold

Mediation Perspectives is a periodic blog entry provided by the CSS’ Mediation Support Team and occasional guest authors. Each entry is designed to highlight the utility of mediation approaches in dealing with violent political conflicts.

Did you know that the US Army trains its soldiers in meditation techniques in order to make them more resilient  to provocation when they go into battle? While this fact may not be relevant to most mediators, it highlights how meditation can be used in unexpected ways. The inspiration for me to explore the relationship between meditation and mediation a little further came when I read Dan Harris’ bestseller “10% Happier”, where he does indeed mention the use of meditation techniques by the US Army. Besides being an entertaining read, Harris’ book also does a great job of exploring the use of meditation techniques in modern-day ways. In the following blog, I hope to build on Harris’ example and 1) briefly distinguish between meditation and mediation as disciplines, and 2) then highlight five meditation principles that can make mediators more effective. The principles center on active listening, dealing with emotions, distinguishing between process and results, practicing self-care, and embracing the right “mediation attitude”. » More

Mediation Perspectives: Dealing with the Problem of Patriarchy

Hanaa El Degham’s graffiti of women queuing for cooking-gas canisters instead of standing in the voting line on the day of the post revolution parliamentary elections. Image: Mia Gröndahl (© 2013).

This article is based on a collection of insights published in “Gender in Mediation: An Exercise Handbook for Trainers”, produced by the Center for Security Studies at ETH Zurich in November 2015.

How can conflicts be resolved without one side imposing their view of what is right and good on the other side? This is at the heart of mediation as a method to deal with conflict, and also at the heart of a transformative understanding of gender equality. Both approaches question paternalistic and patriarchic ways of resolving conflict, where a leader decides what is right for others without listening to their views. Rather than seeing gender equality as a question of political correctness and normative necessity, we should explore it as a fundamental shift in how we shape societies and deal with conflict: questioning patriarchy and fostering cooperative decision-making processes. » More

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