The Future of Mediation: A Sociological Perspective

Brian Jarrett

Program on Dispute Resolution – University of Alaska

December 14, 2010

Journal of Dispute Resolution, Vol. 2009, pp. 49-75, 2009


During the period 2005 through 2007, I interviewed forty renowned mediation teacher-practitioners in the United States and Canada, each of whom has published several major works on mediation. While these experts were concerned with best practices and promoting particular approaches to mediation, it became increasingly evident that each also wanted to identify sociological factors which appear to be shaping the mediation field. In fact, during the course of these interviews, it became evident that these experts appeared to share a common set of concerns about the future of mediation and its continuing promise as a form of dispute resolution.

In general, these teacher-practitioners were concerned with certain trends, including emerging divisions within the field and their related effects. They showed interest, somewhat paradoxically, in a movement toward conformity now materializing in the contemporary mediation field. In sociological terms, both centripetal (center-seeking) social forces and centrifugal (center-fleeing) social forces are shaping mediation’s future. Interviewees pointed out that both forces were significant in the field. On one hand, centripetal forces are pushing mediation toward a more homogenous practice compatible with the legal process. On the other hand, centrifugal forces are causing mediation to splinter into particularized practices aimed at unique disputing environments, cultures, and philosophies.

The Future of Mediation- A Sociological Perspective

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