'Talk about Conflict': Understanding Interpretive Repertoires in Community Mediation



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While many studies investigate the mediation styles enacted during conflict resolution, relatively few of them discuss the communicative processes through which discursive structures are reproduced. This dissertation is a case study illustrating how the duality of structure operates. The purpose of this dissertation is (a) to reveal the discursive resources that community mediators use, (b) to demonstrate how mediators assemble their discursive resources to form a community of practice, and (c) to explore power relations between attorneys and mediators. To understand these issues, I conducted an ethnographic study at a community mediation center employing 25 volunteer mediators. Over 330 hours of participant observations and 41 interviews were completed. Results demonstrated that mediators relied on four interpretive repertoires during mediation: Cultural Competence, Volunteer Pride, Parenting Norms, and Business Professional(ism). They used these repertoires to navigate the tenuous and emotional mediation process. The repertoires provided the mediators with a degree of discursive flexibility in constructing and controlling the immediate situation, and the repertoires were enacted to serve multiple purposes. Further, the extemporaneous engagement of issues, emotions, and discursive resources was an essential skill that was cultivated only over time and with practice. Results also showed that the mediators assembled various repertoires in a number of ways including informal conversations, co-mediations, conference attendance, and organizational meetings. Analysis suggested that the institutional knowledge and discourses provided through formal learning was of secondary importance to developing personal repertoires by mediating as often as possible. In addition, because of the organizing practices of the mediators and the ad hoc nature of the organization, the organizational form of the mediation center was a community of practice. Finally, results found that the power struggles between attorneys and mediators centered on trying to define the mediation situation using different discursive resources. Establishing control of the environment and working the process were the two main goals of mediators, and the more they took ownership of these goals the more often the conflicts settled. This dissertation suggests that taking control of the mediation process is the first step to empowering the participants and achieving a workable mediated settlement.