Hiding in Plain Sight: Mediation, Client-Centered Practice, And the Value of Human Agency
Forthcoming in 35 OHIO STATE JOURNAL ON DISPUTE RESOLUTION , 2020
43 Pages Posted: 12 Jan 2021
Date Written: August 1, 2020
Students and practitioners of transformative mediation still underemphasize the importance of client “empowerment” – the opportunity for clients to recapture the sense of agency that conflict has compromised. That is, those learning the skills of a client-centered process like transformative mediation tend to overlook and ignore the achievement of client empowerment, compared to other goals. Why does the achievement of client empowerment go unseen in this way, even when its value has been explained and emphasized in written work, training, and otherwise? Addressing this “invisibility” of client empowerment is a major challenge for those who ascribe importance to the impact mediation can have on restoring clients’ sense of agency in the wake of conflict. That is one purpose of this Article
However, the effort to answer that question makes sense only if one accepts the premise that client agency – and human agency in general – is a core value whose furtherance should stand at the center of any client assistance process. That premise lies at the heart of transformative mediation theory and practice, and other related processes. What justifies that premise? What is it that explains the value placed by transformative mediation adherents on this phenomenon of human agency per se? Answering that question, primarily but not only in the context of mediators’ work, is a second major aim of this Article.
To achieve these aims, this Article first traces the history of transformative practice. Then the Article explores the meaning of agency, as a basis for mediation and other social processes. It is argued that the phenomenon of agency is at the core of human identity and consciousness; that is, the assertion of agency is an essential meaning of being human, regardless of whether it achieves some other specific impact in the external world. Part Three shows that, although the value of client agency and client-centered practice is mostly disfavored in the dominant practices of mediation and other “helping” professions, that value does find strong recognition in popular culture, and in the clients of transformative mediators.
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