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Topics as indication of being on-task/off-task in dispute mediation

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This study examines topics that participants discuss in the course of mediation sessions in order to understand how these topics indicate whether a mediation session is on-task or off-task. An existing collection of eighteen transcripts from audio recordings of mediation sessions at a mediation centre in the western United States serves as a source of interactional data. On-task topics are those that contribute to the institutional goal of a mediation session. They are centred on the primary reason for attending a mediation session, necessary conditions and ways to resolve the dispute, factors that can hinder this process, a technical side of this process, and information about involved parties that is relevant to the process. Topics that mediators treat as off-task are those that do not contribute to achieving the institutional goal of interaction. They revolve around the parties’ negative behaviour, financial issues, court process, parties’ interests and private matters. Although mediators have a general idea about what is appropriate to discuss in the course of a session, what is on-task or off-task is negotiated and constructed in the situation. The findings enrich our knowledge of institutional talk, argumentation and communication design. First, the analysis of topics shows how mediators and clients enact institutions through their talk, how institutional mediation talk is, and the tension between the interaction order and the institutional order. Second, topics contribute to shaping disagreement space, and mediators control what can become arguable by introducing institutionally appropriate topics and terminating off-task ones. Third, topics serve as interactional material for creating a specific type of interactivity.
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Keywords: argumentation; communication design; conflict; dispute mediation; institutional talk; topics

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Minsk State Linguistic University

Publication date: May 21, 2012

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