Mediators and Substantive Justice: A Sociocultural Perspective

B Wolski

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Disputing and dispute resolution are activities which are largely shaped by the cultural and
social context within which they take place. Sociocultural forces influence the dispute
resolution preferences of parties in conflict and the way in which particular dispute resolution
methods – such as mediation - are perceived and practiced. These forces also impact the role
that mediators are expected to play, if any, in attempting to influence the outcome of the
mediation such that ‘substantive justice’ or ‘fair outcomes’ are achieved.
The link between culture, society, dispute resolution preferences and the mediator’s role and
responsibility for outcome fairness is clearly evident when one compares the mediation
systems of China and the West. In China, it is common for mediators to deliver lectures on
moral virtue and to express opinions about the desired outcome of mediation, that is, an
outcome that accords with community standards of fairness, preserves relationships and
restores social harmony. Chinese mediators are openly assertive in their efforts. Mediation in
the West serves a different function and takes a somewhat different form than mediation in
China. Although some ‘Western’ mediators in some mediations express an opinion as to the
likely outcome if the matter does not settle, such interventions are often frowned about. The
prevailing attitude in the West is that mediators are only responsible for process fairness, and
not for outcome fairness. This paper falls into two main parts. In the first part, the link
between culture, society and preference for dispute resolution methods is explored. The
impact of culture and society on the purposes of mediation and the practice of mediation
including acceptable mediator interventions, is discussed in the second part of the paper. The
paper proceeds by way of a comparative analysis of the mediation of interpersonal disputes
between individuals, in mainland China and the West (more specifically, the United States
and Australia).
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages2
Publication statusPublished - 2017
EventLaw and Society Association of Australia and New Zealand Conference 2017: A Meeting Place for Interdisciplinary Explorations of Justice - Otago University, Dunedin, New Zealand
Duration: 6 Dec 20179 Dec 2017


ConferenceLaw and Society Association of Australia and New Zealand Conference 2017
Abbreviated titleLSAANZ
Country/TerritoryNew Zealand
Internet address


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