In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Intercultural Conflict Mediation

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews and Literature Reviews
  • Seminal Concepts
  • Reference Works
  • Textbooks
  • Anthologies
  • Journals and Special Journal Issues

Communication Intercultural Conflict Mediation
Dominic Busch
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 June 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756841-0229


Conflict mediation refers to the dialogue-based process by which a third person supports two or more parties, constructively managing their conflict. In North America and Europe, the term “conflict mediation” is usually associated with procedural principles that originate from the US-based “alternative dispute resolution” (ADR) movement. Originally, conflict mediation in the United States had been introduced as an alternative to court-based conflict resolution. Mediation was meant to produce results that were more sustainable and more satisfying for all concerned parties. From the 1980s onward, conflict mediation has increasingly been considered to be particularly suitable for the management of conflicts in intercultural settings; its inherent high procedural flexibility may help in adapting the concept to other cultural contexts, as well as taking cultural aspects of the parties concerned into consideration. The dialogue orientation of the tool was expected to give equal voices to all participants, balancing hidden power inequalities resulting from different cultural affiliations. This general and basic assumption has laid a very fruitful groundwork for the emergence of a highly diverse landscape of approaches to the idea of intercultural conflict mediation since the late 20th century. Researchers on intercultural communication (see also the separate Oxford Bibliographies in Communication article “Intercultural Communication”) and intercultural competence took mediation as a long-expected hands-on tool to finally manage problems resulting from interculturality. This transfer from an alternative to courts to a tool promoting intercultural understanding, however, will leave some gaps open for research, since the tool does not match perfectly: research on intercultural communication and intercultural competence has so far seen its main challenges in rather subtle irritations and everyday interactions instead of focusing on escalated disputes. Parallel to this, although numerous different notions of culture have existed in research for ages, academia concerning interculturality has started to include a wider variety of paradigms since the late 20th century, resulting in widely different notions of culture and its effects. Depending on what paradigm authors adhere to, they will produce widely different understandings on what intercultural conflict mediation is supposed to be. This article will illuminate the range of these understandings. It will also focus on concepts of mediation, taking single individuals into consideration and leaving aside the mediation of large ethnic groups as a different scenario to be located in international politics.

General Overviews and Literature Reviews

The notion of intercultural conflict mediation can generally be seen from the (interdisciplinary) fields of conflict resolution research and practice as well as intercultural communication research, including research on translation and interpreting. Both traditions approach the topic of intercultural conflict mediation as a side field or a development within their own schools of thought. Mediation practitioners writing about their work experience generally derive the concept from the tradition of conflict research and management, as outlined in the systematics in Wall and Dunne 2012. Accordingly, most overviews and literature reviews, such as Avruch 2018, start from the Western reinvention as an alternative concept to juridical conflict management from the 1960s onward. This tradition has widened its fields of application, and it has deepened and intensified its ideological orientations as being a people-centered alternative to juridical bureaucracy. Conflict mediation in intercultural settings has been dealt with in the literature from the early 1990s onward, as has been outlined in LeBaron, et al. 1998. The majority of theoretical and empirical research has been published since then. There are only a few closer looks at the precise constructions of relatedness between culture and conflict in the literature. Busch 2016 presents the first systematization of these approaches. D’Estrée and Parsons 2018 departs from the insight that the early-21st-century world is the result of cultures in contact over centuries. Hybrid forms of local and Western conflict mediation should thus be seen as the rule instead of an exception. Research should take this as a given and present detailed descriptions and analyses of these cultural blendings.

  • Avruch, Kevin. 2018. Towards the fourth wave of conflict resolution practice. In Cultural encounters and emergent practices in conflict resolution capacity-building. Edited by Tamra Pearson d’Estrée and Ruth J. Parsons, 387–401. Cham, Switzerland: Springer International.

    DOI: 10.1007/978-3-319-71102-7_13

    Outlines the development of (Western) conflict mediation practice from its early beginnings in the 1960s up to the late 2010s, following two very contrasting paradigms: interest-based conflict management had been promoted by Roger Fisher and William Ury’s communication training book Getting to Yes, preaching a separation of persons and issues. Conflict management focusing on people’s needs, in contrast, puts their emotional attachment into the center of rebuilding interpersonal relations.

  • Busch, Dominic. 2016. Does conflict mediation research keep track with cultural theory? A theory-based qualitative content analysis on concepts of culture in conflict management research. European Journal of Applied Linguistics 4.2: 181–207.

    DOI: 10.1515/eujal-2015-0037

    A meta-analysis of studies analyzing the interrelationships of culture and conflict mediation. It shows that researchers tend to choose definitions and conceptualizations of culture that best confirm their a priori assumptions about their objects of research. In contrast, works on the challenges of intercultural understanding may profit from more stable and relativist notions of culture. However, this current practice may systematically avoid the exploration of new insights.

  • d’Estrée, Tamra Pearson, and Ruth J. Parsons. 2018. The state of the art and the need for context-grounded practice in conflict resolution. In Cultural encounters and emergent practices in conflict resolution capacity-building. Edited by Tamra Pearson d’Estrée and Ruth J. Parsons, 1–29. Cham, Switzerland: Springer International.

    DOI: 10.1007/978-3-319-71102-7_1

    The authors contextualize the emergence of conflict mediation in the West and its worldwide export undergoing four waves: (1) from a rigid, culture-universalist transfer to (2) the insight that cultural particularities must be considered to (3) detailed descriptions of culture-specific practices. The authors plead for (4) precisely describing the practices by which Western forms of mediation merge with local forms.

  • LeBaron, Michelle, Erin McCandless, and Stephen Garon. 1998. Conflict and culture: A literature review and bibliography; 1992–1998 update. Fairfax, VA: Institute for Conflict Analysis and Resolution, George Mason Univ.

    In 1992, LeBaron had presented the first bibliography on works dealing with interrelations between conflict and culture. With coauthors, she has continued this overview for the subsequent years, presenting ninety-eight annotated and another forty-four nonannotated references. There are new tendencies: the relationship between conflict and culture is considered more complex, theories and approaches are diversifying, and constructivist approaches emerge. The authors consider multiculturalism as one of the continuing open challenges.

  • Wall, James A., and Timothy C. Dunne. 2012. Mediation research: A current review. Negotiation Journal 28.2: 217–244.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1571-9979.2012.00336.x

    The authors design a matrix of forms of conflict mediation, being characterized by mediators pursuing their own goals, conflict parties, and forms of conflict being carried out in different countries, cultures, and institutions. The authors provide differentiations for each criterion. Considering influences of intercultural communication, the authors take in an etic-essentialist perspective: cultures consist of different norms, as well as communicative conventions building on these norms.

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