Mediation Discourse in the United States and Belarus

Culturally Shaped Interactions

Authored by: Alena L. Vasilyeva

The Handbook of Communication in Cross-Cultural Perspective

Print publication date:  September  2016
Online publication date:  August  2016

Print ISBN: 9781138892095
eBook ISBN: 9781315709321
Adobe ISBN: 9781317485605

10.4324/9781315709321.ch22

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Abstract

After receiving my degree in linguistics I decided to move to the US to pursue my studies in communication as this academic field did not exist in Belarus. There I got particularly interested in mediation, as this institution was unknown within a Belarusian scene. In this article I explore mediation discourse in the US as an example of culturally shaped interaction. Mediation talk is an institutional form of talk where the goal of interaction is to help disputants manage their conflict through deliberation. On the one hand, it is possible to argue that dispute mediation itself as an arena for conflict resolution is a culturally specific phenomenon as this kind of institution does not exist in all the cultures. According to Aakhus (2007), different formats of talk presuppose different beliefs about communication. In this respect, dispute mediation reflects the ideas that members of a particular culture (the US, in this particular case) have about how interaction should be shaped to deal with a conflict situation at an institutional level. On the other hand, mediation practices also differ across cultures, so we can talk about a local view of communication at a more micro-level. The research on terms and practices related to cultural discourses (Carbaugh, Nuciforo, & Saito, 2011) shows that the term “dialogue” carries certain cultural assumptions about the goals of communication, implicit rules for conduct, interactional structure, and mode. In the course of mediation sessions, mediators make moves to terminate dialogue activities and topics that are not appropriate for mediation activity and to advance and encourage those that contribute to achieving an institutional goal of interaction, thus giving an idea what is valued and what is not valued in terms of communication practices. Mediators focus disputants on collaboration, and mediators’ practices reveal what this concept of collaborative talk means in this particular culture. The communicative behavior of mediators is also reflective of cultural values of the US society, for example, values of independence and self-sufficiency, time, future orientation, practicality and efficiency, and the US discourse of personhood. Besides, mediators’ actions indicate what social identities are appropriate for a mediation session (i.e., parents and collaborators) and give an idea what cultural models of being a good parent and a good colleague are. In the following sections, I will briefly review research on mediation as a cultural phenomenon, describe the data, and analyze cultural specificity of the US mediation discourse.

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