Lederach, John Paul. "Director's Circle."

Conciliation Quarterly, 8:3 (Summer 1989), pp. 12-14.

Summary by Mariya Yevsyukova.

Copyright 1997 by the Conflict Research Consortium


In this article John Paul Lederach compares mediation with nonviolent advocacy. Advocates argue that mediation reinstitutes injustice in situations of power imbalance between the parties. Mediation also tends to limit the issues, avoiding dealing with the structural problems in which many conflicts are rooted. For this reason advocates prefer adversarial and confrontational approaches to conflict.

Mediators, on the other hand, believe that advocates do not understand and have no desire to learn the mediation process or work with different perspectives. Mediators also feel uncomfortable with activists' positions of righteousness. Lederach argues that this dispute between mediators and advocates is a nonconstructive debate, where polarization and stereotypes dominate. He suggests an alternative framing of the problem.

1. Different but not Incompatible

Lederach's view is based on the theoretical approach of Quaker conciliator Adam Curle. Curle created a model of conflict development that is "a matrix comparing levels of power with levels of awareness of conflicting interests". This matrix suggests that conflicts go through different stages, each of which is best approached in a different way. In a situation of gross power imbalance, the weaker party might not even realize the injustice that is being done to him. In this case, education is needed to generate awareness of the inferior position of the low-power party. Education will also help the low-power party identify its interests and needs in the conflict. Awareness then leads to a desire for change that often can be attained only through confrontation with the oppressor. Through confrontation, a balance of power might be achieved, as well as legitimization of the weaker party's needs and interests. Only then can negotiations (or mediation) bring a desirable change in the relationship.

This model illustrates several links between mediation and advocacy. For example, both have the goal of pursuing justice and restructuring of relationships. Rather than competing, Lederach argues, the two strategies complement each other. Negotiations are possible after a balance of power has been established, and interests and needs have been identified and recognized. This is achieved through nonviolent advocacy. The parties realize their interdependency as a result of confrontation, and unless the opponent is eliminated, negotiations are necessary to develop solutions. The major similarity is that both methods transform the conflict, though they have different immediate aims and positions toward the parties. Nonviolent advocacy sides with the oppressed side and transforms conflict into an overt stance and intensifies it as a consequence. Mediation tries to minimize conflict by reducing adversarial confrontation and striving for mutual recognition.

2. Conflict Transformation

Conceptual changes in the field are accompanied with the development of new terminology. The mediation field started evolving around the concept of "conflict resolution", which encouraged theoreticians and practitioners to study conflict development. But it also carried the idea that conflict is destructive and needs to be ended. Thus "resolution" did not adequately address the notion that conflict is often an ongoing phenomenon.

The next concept that was introduced in the field was "conflict management". This captured the lasting nature of conflict and suggested that conflict develops along certain patterns that can be predicted. Thus, this view assumes that conflict can be redirected into more constructive interaction. But this is also inadequate because we often cannot predict and direct human behavior.

"Transformation" is a term that is gaining more and more support in the mediation community. It does not imply control, but the possibility of influencing the parties' perceptions and conflict expressions.

Framing the debate between nonviolent advocacy and mediation in transformative terms makes the two methods inclusive. They both hold a positive perception about conflict and want to transform the world into a just and peaceful place. Advocacy transforms the relationships "from silence to awareness and from awareness to balancing power" (p. 13). Thus works toward conflict escalation. Mediation transforms the way people perceive each other and their aims. It deescalates the conflict. Together those methods create a "movement from awareness of interdependence to dialogue and mutually acceptable solutions".

3. Empowering the Community of Voices

The author suggests that only through empowering of both seemingly opposing internal voices of mediator and activist within ourselves can we achieve the goal of justice and peace. The best way to do this is through dialogue with people who support each of these approaches, so that advocates and mediators begin to develop a better understanding of their respective roles in the process of conflict transformation.