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New routes to power: towards a typology of power mediation

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 September 2010


This article is concerned with a particular debate in mediation literature, revolving around the merit and necessity of power as a strategy employed by third parties in their efforts to negotiate a successful resolution to conflict. We argue that by subscribing to a one-dimensional spectrum of pure-to-power mediation, students of mediation have neglected the development of how power is conceptualised and operates within the changing dynamics of conflict and its mediation.

We therefore seek to redefine the concept of power mediation to project a closer fit between conflicting parties' understanding of their situation and the methods, aims and motivations of their mediators. Breaking away from the existing pure-power spectrum, we propose a heuristic framework that includes four distinct types of power mediation, defined here as real, made, critical and structural power. The contribution of our heuristic model is threefold. First, it assists us in asking the most basic question of social science research, ‘of what is this a case’, which in turn ought to lead to a more sophisticated observation of mediation instances. Concurrently, through the frame of ‘power’, it establishes common understanding of observable phenomena that makes the study of mediation more accessible to the wider audience beyond students of our modest literature. Finally, the synthesis of epistemological and ontological inquiry of conflict and power with the established International Relations (IR) approaches of realism(s), constructivism, critical discourse and structuralism, allows respective real, made, critical and structural types of mediation power to be tested.

Research Article
Copyright © British International Studies Association 2010

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