Conflict mediation discourse examined through a Girardian lens : weapons and wounds in conflict talk

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Green, Erik William

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Mediation promises a way for conflicting parties to address differences and reach an agreement to settle their dispute. This study looks at mediation discourse of five cases from a university conflict resolution center through the lens of Girard’s (1977) theory of mimetic desire. Girard (1977) suggests that we are all in a pattern of mimesis. Antagonism that is prevalent in conflict develops, in Girard’s view, from the cycle of desire when one person wants an object and another person copies that desire for the object. The two parties quickly forget the object, but antagonism emerges as the mimetic desire continues. Girard argues parties have a tendency to place blame on a scapegoat to break the antagonism pattern. Alternatively, in her application of Girard’s theory, Cobb (1997, 2003, 2010a, 2010b) advocates a social constructionist perspective where disputants work on turning thin conflict stories into thicker ones to break the pattern. This project addresses a need for research on cycles of antagonism in discourse constructed by disputants during real mediation sessions. Knowing how disputants construct discourse lends insight into how people handle their most challenging interpersonal problems. The analysis of discourse through the guiding frameworks of conflict tactics, production format, and tenor of discourse sheds light on how disputants construct perpetuated mimicked antagonism and how they break the pattern. Additionally, findings highlight the emergence of weapons and wounds in the discourse suggesting that communicative violence is constructed whether or not there was actual physical violence.
Components of thin conflict narratives are evident in findings from all five cases. Yet, while two cases are characterized by discourse of perpetuated mimicked antagonism, three represent a break in that pattern without placing blame on a scapegoat or constructing a thicker conflict narrative. The distinctions between a perpetuated and broken cycle are unpacked through the discussion of: a) animator-only position; b) indirectness and presumptive attribution; and c) shift in footing between talking to the other disputant and the mediators. This project provides a more nuanced understanding of the Girardian perspective relating to conflict mediation to contribute to the extant literature on conflict discourse and mediation practice.



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