The article examines transcripts from dispute mediation to explore mediators' strategic maneuvering for keeping disputants on task--that is, on creating a plan regarding custody and visitation arrangements for their children. The concept of strategic maneuvering (van Eemeren 2010; van Eemeren and Houtlosser 2001) was developed for principals in a dispute but not so much for third parties who are responsible for the quality of interaction, for example, mediators. During mediation sessions, the goal of achieving a reasonable settlement goes hand in hand with participants' attempts to get what they want, so parties are involved in strategic interaction to balance both aims. In contrast to disputants whose gains are related to their personal interests, mediators' interests, in a way, are the ones of the conciliation court on behalf of which they act. Mediators' strategic maneuvering orients to achieving the institutional goal. The article explores mediators' institutional practices to keep disputants on task and to constrain what becomes arguable.
Institutional practices, in this context, are interactional features of mediation talk. Institutional talk differs from ordinary conversation in many aspects (e.g. lexical choice, turn design, and sequence organization (Drew and Heritage 1992)), which can influence how disagreement is managed. For example, in mediation talk, disputants often direct their utterances to the mediator rather than the other disputant, which helps to mitigate disagreement between them (Garcia 1991). Thus, mediation talk, although it varies among centers and practitioners, carries some expectations about what is an adequate contribution to interaction, and what is a violation. While strategic maneuvering can be associated with an individual choice of strategies interactants use (e.g. Muraru 2012), it is possible to identify some common practices mediators employ as institutional agents. This study, in particular, focuses on moves mediators make and their framing, (1) topics they treat as institutionally (in)appropriate, identities they advance, and how these features of interaction contribute to constructing argumentative activity.
The study takes a communicative view of argumentation that emphasizes the importance of discourse in understanding argumentation concepts, which was advanced by a conversational argument approach and pragma-dialectics (Jacobs and Jackson 1981; van Eemeren et al. 1996). This view integrates pragmatics with its focus on language use in the context and treats argumentation as a dialogic process and a collaborative activity.
The study examines custody mediation and claims that mediators' strategic maneuvering in this type of mediation has its own specificity. Mediators use a variety of interactional resources to manage disagreement but institutional and interactional constraints of mediation talk limit their communicative work. The study also suggests that the concept of strategic maneuvering can be further developed by including identities as another type of interactional resources employed to shape argumentative activity.
In the following sections, I explain the concept of strategic maneuvering, discuss research on mediators' communication work, describe the data and method, analyze mediators' strategic maneuvering, and discuss findings.
Strategic maneuvering is one of the key concepts developed in the framework of pragmadialectics (van Eemeren 2010; van Eemeren and Houtlosser 2001). (2) This concept arose because participants of argumentative activity not only pursue the goal of discussion, which is the resolution of difference of opinion, but also try to achieve their own goals. In strategic maneuvering, interactants use rhetorical moves to lead discussion in the direction that is advantageous to them for reaching their aim. Strategic maneuvering manifests itself
in making an expedient choice from the options constituting the topical potential--the set of relevant alternatives--associated with a particular discussion stage, in selecting a responsive adaptation to audience demand--the listeners' or readership's expectations and preferences--, and in exploiting appropriate presentational devices--the phrasing of moves in the light of their discursive and stylistic effectiveness, (van Eemeren and Houtlosser 2001, 152)
Although pragma-dialecticians emphasize that interactants' primary goal is resolving difference of opinion and not just reaching their own ends, and that they are expected to follow the rules of critical discussion while trying to achieve that (van Eemeren and Houtlosser 2001), the concept of strategic maneuvering suggests that interactants shape discussion using resources available in this very interaction. (3) Strategic maneuvering is context-dependent and is affected by an argumentative activity type (van Eemeren 2010).
Recently, research has provided insight into how strategic maneuvering manifests in mediation (Greco Morasso 2011; Muraru 2012), political communication (van Eemeren 2013; Garssen 2013; Zarefsky 2008), legal sphere (Feteris 2008), advertising (Goodnight 2008), health communication (Snoeck Henkemans and Mohammed 2012), mathematical arguments (Krabbe 2008), marital argument (Weger 2013), and public policy debates (Jackson 2008).
These studies demonstrate that, although strategic maneuvering is performed by individual interactants, features of institutional activity play an important part in how it is accomplished. For example, the institutional goal of a medical encounter constrains argumentative exchanges between physicians and patients and techniques physicians use to recommend the best medical treatment and to create an impression that it is the patient who makes a final decision (Snoeck Henkemans and Mohammed 2012).
Of particular interest for the present study is argumentation in the course of mediation, as unlike many other activities in which two parties are engaged in argumentative discussion, it involves a third party who is not the principal of conflict exchange, but nevertheless plays an important part in it. Next, I discuss research on mediation, with a primary focus on mediators' actions to shape interaction.
Mediators' activity to shape interaction
Mediation talk is an institutional form of talk where the goal of interaction is to help disputants manage their conflict through deliberation. Research on mediation, aimed at understanding natural interaction processes, has focused on its different aspects, such as interactional organization of mediation talk (e.g. Garcia 1991; Greatbatch and Dingwall 1997; Jacobs 2002), mediators' neutrality (e.g. Donohue 1991; Heisterkamp 2006; Jacobs 2002), disputants' participation (e.g. Donohue 1991; Garcia 2010), and mediators' actions to shape interaction (e.g. Aakhus 2003; Greco Morasso 2011; Muraru 2012; Vasilyeva 2012a, 2012b, 2015). The research on the latter aspect provides grounds for seeing mediators' actions as strategic ones.
Greco Morasso (2011) rightly states that, although mediators do not have the role of a protagonist or antagonist, and are supposed to be a neutral party in argumentative discussion, they nevertheless are involved in their own strategic maneuvering. Focusing on mediators' behavior in diplomatic mediation, Muraru (2012) identifies mediators' two roles: facilitator and manipulator. As facilitators, mediators help parties to communicate. As manipulators, mediators use their persuasive power to influence the parties' decision. Other research views mediators as designers of interaction (Aakhus 2003; Vasilyeva 2015). (4) As designers, mediators adapt to the situation and make moves to keep the interaction on task. For example, analyzing messages mediators produce to manage impasse (i.e. a situation where the interaction is likely to aggravate conflict rather than to solve it), Aakhus (2003) identifies three strategies: using linguistic devices to redirect the focus of discussion, to temporize the dispute (i.e. asking participants to develop temporary arrangements), and to relativize facts (i.e. discounting the grounds on which a disputant escalates the dispute). (5) Mediators also contribute to constructing a specific form of interactivity by advancing institutionally preferred dialogue activities (e.g. information gathering) and discouraging institutionally dispreferred ones (e.g. having an argument) (Vasilyeva 2012b). (6)
Other argumentative tools mediators use to act strategically are neutrality, dissociation, and definitions (Muraru 2012). For example, neutrality, according to Muraru, can be understood in two ways. First, neutrality is related to the process of mediation and is associated with creating symmetry between conflicting positions and a mediator's impartiality as a third party. Second, it corresponds to its content and is associated with the language use (i.e. rephrasing emotionally loaded terms with neutral ones), and thus can be viewed as a strategy.
Focusing on exemplary interactions in different types of dispute mediation (business, community, school, family, organizational), the goal of which is to restore parties' relationship, Greco Morasso (2011) identifies a number of mediators' strategic moves to manage conflict such as constraining topical potential, helping parties to identify real issues that led to the conflict and their interests, shifting the conflict to the resolution that is related to the participants' deepest interests, and using metaphors and questions.
These studies, whether they take a normative approach to argumentation such as pragma-dialectics (e.g. Muraru (2012) and Greco Morasso (2011)) or an inductive approach such as conversational argument and communication design (e.g. Aakhus (2003); Vasilyeva (2012b, 2015)), highlight the importance of interactional resources for constructing argumentative activity in mediation and mediators' role in this process. The present project continues this...