The Problematics of Representation in Community Mediation Hearings: Implications for Mediation Practice

Angela Garcia, Bentley University


Empowering disputants to represent themselves and create their own agreement is a frequently cited goal of community mediation programs. This paper explores how disputants' positions and interests are represented in mediation, and investigates the implications of such representation for the negotiation process. This narrative analysis of transcripts of videotaped community mediation hearings shows that disputant self-representation in mediation is never unconstrained. The interactional organization of mediation and the actions of mediators work to limit and define how disputants formulate their utterances. Mediator representation of disputants varies in the degree of intervention or coercion applied. Mediators may limit themselves to rephrasing, restating, or elaborating a disputant's position. However, in some cases mediators take the place of disputants in negotiations. The implications of these various types of representation for disputant autonomy, mediator neutrality and agreement compliance are discussed