Brian Jarrett, JD, LL.M., Ph.D. is a Professor, Lawyer, and Mediator who teaches, practices, and researches mediation at the University of Alaska. He also works in private practice providing mediation and arbitration to private parties. The author expresses his gratitude to Tammy McLain, J.D., and Sue Zuckerman, J.D., for their respective helpful comments and suggestions in the drafting of this article.
Mediation has become a competition between brands vying for distinction not unlike cereal manufacturers competing with each other for access to the market of potential consumers. This is not a positive development for a professional field of endeavor. Mediation has much more to offer than competing claims of superiority that attempt to deride and disparage the competition. This article, which is written from a sociological viewpoint, challenges these claims and suggests that the mediation community should instead develop a broader integrated approach to mediation that is pragmatic, flexible, opensource, and based on a robust theoretical foundation.
This article is written from a social-science perspective and it uses terms that are not in everyday use. Two of the most important are ontology and epistemology, terms borrowed from philosophy. A simplified definition of ontology in philosophy is the study of existence. Epistemology means the study of the origins, methods, and limits of human knowledge.1 Because these terms have a particular meaning in this article, I am defining them up front. With regard to social conflict, ontology as used in this article refers to the existence of that reality, while epistemology refers to knowledge of that reality.