Chupp, Mark. "When Mediation is Not Enough."

Conciliation Quarterly, 10:3 (Summer, 1991), pp. 2-3, 12.

Summary by Mariya Yevsyukova

Copyright 1997 by the Conflict Research Consortium.


Analyzing the value system that dominates the present field of mediation, the author concludes that the mediator's original goal of reconciliation has been lost. Throughout the years there has been a value shift in the mediation field which is reflected in the changing use of terminology from "reconciliation" to "conflict resolution" and to "conflict management". What is the cause of such a transition? According to Mark Chupp, the noble goal of bringing peace and justice was replaced by the purely technical approach of satisfying the parties' interests. This is the approach of the current problem-solving model of mediation. Chupp believes that this is the time to restore the original goal of reconciliation by creating new mediation approaches. The model that he outlines in this article has a value of inner conflict and social structure transformation at the core and uses nonviolence as a technique of conflict regulation.

Current Model

This current problem-solving mediation model considers conflicts "neither good nor bad, but as situations of competing interests and needs among parties that are generally neither right nor wrong" (p. 2). Conflicts can be brought to an end or constructively managed through several mediation sessions where communication facilitation takes place. But this model is not sufficient when there is a large power imbalance between the parties or structural violence. Mediators following the notion of neutrality allow the parties to deal with the issues in conflict, hoping that injustices will be recognized. However, this often does not happen, Chupp argues, and injustices are left untouched. Similarly, because of the limitations of the current mediation model, there is a tendency not to address structural problems. Parties that hold power in many instances are very reluctant to negotiate. The current mediation approach does not deal with this issue, just as it tends to ignore power imbalances.

An Alternative: Conflict Transformation by Active Nonviolence

According to this approach to conflict, a third party cannot be neutral because it would mean indifference to victimization and oppression. The third party's goals in Chupp's view, are to fight injustice and violence, but at the same time to help the parties choose the process that gives all of them an equal opportunity to determine their future. As conflicts often have their roots in the social system of the society, in order to achieve lasting solutions, conflict transformation should be staged on the level of both larger social problems and specific disputes. This main value of the process is "a transformation of the individuals, relationships and systems" (p. 3).

With this goal in mind, the mediator works with the parties to determine the best way to reach the desirable outcome. In this model, mediation stops being a goal in itself, but rather "a moral framework for peace". As such, it is only one of the alternative methods. In situations of power imbalance and institutionalized violence, advocacy or boycott might be better ways of transforming conflicts to obtain justice and peace.

To elucidate the differences between traditional mediation and conflict transformation by active nonviolence, Chupp identifies seven principles of the latter. These include: 1. The position of the intervening third party is not neutral, though it seeks to empower all parties in conflict. 2. Bringing parties to the table and reaching an agreement is not a primary goal. The primary goal is to create just relationships between the parties and bring transformation of the social system if it causes injustice. 3. Socio-economic problems deserve as much attention as the immediate issues in conflict. 4. Conflict unfolds in a context of community relationships. It might be more beneficial if the intervenor is known and respected by the parties than a complete stranger. 5. Inner transformation is a part of a conflict transformation process. 6. Before the parties get engaged in the conflict transformation process, they should gain communication and nonviolence skills. 7. One peacemaking goal is to educate the parties about ways of dealing with their problems.

The Transformative Process

The first step is "assessment\reflection". This involves helping the parties to get a better understanding of their needs and interests as well as emotional and spiritual concerns. The next step is "orientation to peacemaking". The parties are educated about skills of negotiation, communication and nonviolence. Inner values and emotional issues get addressed as well, through dialogue, information sharing, and self-reflection. During the next stage a party or the parties, with help from the intervenor, outlines a "plan of action". This plan may be "collaborative persuasive, or even somewhat coercive" (p. 12), unlike mediation which is limited to collaborative processes.