John G Bell


Spring '03 - Hill

Book Response: “Narrative Mediation” by Winslade & Monk

A. Important things about ...

  1. the power and limitation of dialogue


  2. American or world society


  3. these specific groups

The skills of the facilitator are significant and require a great deal of practice. Further, the commitment, and thus willingness, to mediate is only marginal. The amount of time spent in mediation getting the parties to the table in the first place and then in developing a shared story or in creative story building is huge. The ability to even engage in mediation and dialogue are thus a privilege, and this cannot be taken for granted when framing them as the “proper” way of interacting to balance community and autonomy. Culturally creating a “proper” way of interacting that acts as a barrier to entry is just another form of institutionalized prejudice. This has to be addressed. One way of addressing this is to keep in mind the need to create those places and spaces as part of the active cultural paradigm.

  1. myself

I'm really very interested in what the Safari might mean to the ideas of mediation. Keeping balances between the pairs might mean that there's a role to be played in each position if those positions are not filled and that this balance would offer the chance to create an ecology. For example, in traditional mediation, the facilitation role is where the mediator acts but in narrative style the mediator enters more on the side of inquiry and creativity. However, there's a question in my mind about what to do when the balance of a conflict is between inquiry and advocacy itself. In this case, the mediation would need to style towards the aggressive and passive pair. How might this look? Would the mediation become a sporting event? A shared activity to be aggressive? Would the mediation become a social event, for community building with people outside the conflict, a chance to see diversity and autonomy exemplified?

B. Talking points

  1. Where's the Monkey?

p15 “relationship, process and content issues are all interwoven”

In both this book and the DRC training manual, there seem to be missing legs to the idea of what satisfaction will come out of the mediation. In the DRC model, the mediation is a process of building community by having a facilitator that brings the parties together for the purpose of process story building. In the Narrative Mediation model, the mediation is a process of building community by having a facilitator that brings the parties together for the purpose of community story building.

In the language of the Safari, in one case half the Meerkat is used by the Rhino, and in the other half the Meerkat is used by the Monkey. There's the Meerkat enough to keep the ecology, but each tilts the balance toward either inquiry or advocacy.

I wonder about where real satisfaction comes in to this. The creative tension between the Rhino as advocacy and the Monkey as inquiry would allow a ecology of styles as needed by the participants. I can see how each style would meed the needs of some actors in mediation, but not all.

Further, I wonder about the way in which mediation acts mostly not as a way to solve problems for clients, but as a way to model behaviors and model future interactions for the clients. In this sense, mediation is a tool to an end that is behaviour modification, and this is a serious agenda that might be examined in its own right. If mediation isn't really effective on the active edge of conflict so much as it is a way to train people to conform to a model of behaviour, to teach systemic thinking and the ability to recognize, evaluate and exchange mental models, then there's a not so subtle pogrom going on in the mediation process to eliminate extreme positional thinking, and then might be criticized as being just another experiment at social control that denies autonomy to the under privileged that can't afford to go strait to the courts with conflicts.

  1. Two Brains

p36 “collective responsibility” vs “individual autonomy”

p52 “landscape of action” vs “landscape of consciousness”

p41, etc ... “modernism” vs “postmodernism”

etc ...

Brain #1:

p32 “individuals are seen as prime movers in their own worlds, and communities are portrayed as made up of distinct human beings who act independently and are accountable for their choices.”

“individuals are driven primarily by internally generated needs ...”

“conflict is assumed to happen because individual needs are not being met”

“the mediator is objective” being a disconnected 3rd party. The mediator is a “scientist-practitioner.”

Brain #2:

p37 “antiessentialism” “people are more the product of social process than essenses”

p38 “antirealism” “questions the existence of objective facts” “all knowledge is derived from a perspective”

p39 “language as a precondition for thought” language is “a meaning-making activity rather than a passive reporting function.”

p40 “language as a form of social action” “language is performative”

The conflict between the two brains of Why We Love War is brought into high focus in this book. The ideas of narrative mediation point in some cases to a clear difference in paradigm toward mediation, but also makes a great deal of effort toward maintaining a creative tension between building and testing mental models, as on p89 where the mediators are directed to check with the actors “that the question are heading in a desirable direction.” Also, the idea of “position calls” on p74 is about pointing out the possibility for new mental models that might result in better relationships and resolutions.

On p72, there's the idea of “creating a relational climate in which this spirit is allowed to flourish, whether or not the parties are inclined to have an ongoing relationship ...” which points to keeping a creative tension between a collective and autonomy.

  1. Necessity of conflict when there's diversity

p41 “It is inevitable that differences will result from this diversity of meaning and that conflict will arise from time to time within or between people.” “Therefore, from a narrative perspective, conflict is understood from the outside in as the almost inevitable by-product of diversity ...”

Systems Thinking and mediation are both trying to answer the question of how to deal with diversity of opinion without getting rid of diversity. This is a huge question. The current political climate and current events are both indications of how seriously this dilemma is a source of struggle in the world today. The balance between the potential diversity of autonomy and the potential censure of community while encouraging the creativity of autonomy and the love of community seem to be where systems thinking, mediation, dialogue, the Safari, and many other examples of bubbling fermentation are working together.

C. Outrageous statement or claim

In some sense I feel like “Ukiah” David from The Color of Fear, but on p107-108 of this book there's comments about how in one example mediation the male actor is characterized as behaving jealous and controlling due to clearly having “patriarchal” sympathies and training. However, I find this amazingly offensive. Of course, there's an expectation that I'm a guy so I'll be outraged by having my “privilege” pointed to an storied, but it's really important to think about what's being done here.

If the two actors were swapped, the same characterization would not apply. This means that the characterization is due to the fact that the one actor is male. If the female actor exhibited the same behaviours, the label “patriarchal” would not be used however the behaviours would be just as controlling and abusive. To call it patriarchally based is an intellectual shortcut and denies the prevalence of human tendency to control and abuse when frustrated.

In some sense, this section points to the fact that the label “patriarchal” is used as an essential quality of the will to power of males, but it is not used to characterize the will to power of females. This is a dangerous double standard. What this means is that when the permitted group comes to power, they have a pre-hidden privilege toward the behavior, an excuse to say that they aren't subject to the same criteria of acceptable behaviour. If this happens, then the oppressed become the oppressors, which is a cycle that happens far too often. To claim that something is more than just bad or wrong is to claim that it is somehow essential to the “other” gender, which is a dangerous side into prejudice and prepares for future classification of that wrong action as a relative and contextual wrong for only one class of people.