Parallel worlds of disputes and mediation
Grounded in interpretive theory, this researcha ddressesth e question: `How do professional, lay
and gendered actors understand and experience mediation in legal disputes'? While mediation is
increasingly well described and understood through a fast growing literature, to which lawyers
and other social scientists have contributed, rather little empirical data is yet available on what
happens inside mediation sessions and on how these sessions are experienced by the actors
involved. The different understandings of professional and lay actors, and of males and females,
particularly require further examination. These differences are explored here through data derived
from interview/questionnaire/observationfi les of actors (parties, lawyers, mediators) involved in
64 mediated medical dispute claims (mandatory and voluntary; pre- and intra-litigation).
Attention to the discursive representations of the various actors on issues such as understandings
of plaintiffs' litigation aims, all actors' mediation objectives and perceptions of what occurred
during mediations revealed significant differences in terms of both language and agenda. It
emerges that professional and lay actors, males and females, occupy largely parallel worlds of
understanding affecting how conflict and its resolution are perceived. There is some evidence that
mediation experience leads lawyers to re-conceptualise their roles. This move away from
conventional legal thought is strengthened through the discourse of lawyer-mediators, which was
frequently distinct from practitioners and more akin to that of non-lawyer mediators.
Nevertheless, in juxtaposing actors' discourse on all sides of the same or similar cases, the data
reveals inherent problems with the core workings of the legal system as stark similarities in the
discourse of disputants on the one hand, and lawyers of all camps on the other reveal unlikely
conceptual alignments between mediations' legal and extra-legal actors.