GSUM Winter School: a Global Perspective on Mediation from the (Global) South

GSUM stands for Global South Unit for Mediation hosted by IRI/PUC-Rio. The first Winter School of GSUM was organised in July-August 2014. The full program can be accessed here.

I took part in the final plenary entitled ‘Mediation and the Global South’. The title of the panel was interpreted by some in the audience as an attempt to offer a Global South perspective on mediation. My remarks emphasised the need for something slightly different: a global perspective on mediation from the (global) South. The difference between the two is not insignificant

Judging by the literature on mediation, the syllabi of courses taught, and some (but not all) practices, the global South’s relationship with mediation is characterised by a hierarchy. There are those who produce knowledge about mediation. There are those who are trained to consume that knowledge. And there are those whose conflicts are mediated by those who utilise that knowledge.

This hierarchical relationship is characterised by a division of labour: producers, data-providers, and consumers. Some of us are not content with playing our roles in this hierarchical relationship of being data providers in research, mere interlocutors in teaching and mediation practices. I suspect similar concerns have shaped GSUM Winter School as well. But what do we do about it?

Some of us are aware of the limitations of what is on offer. Yet we are also not comfortable with the alternatives. Sometimes this is because there is so little that is offered as an alternative. The so-called others’ approaches to conflict resolution and mediation. This alternative literature is growing, albeit slowly (see, for example). It is extremely useful in reminding ourselves of the limitations of the literature on mediation.

Sometimes we do not find the alternatives satisfactory because we are not convinced that the alternative improves upon what is being criticised. The approach that we receive from the global North reflects particularities of the global North and presents them as universal, and we understand the limitations involved. The alternatives contest such universality and offer new particularities. Are we convinced that this is an improvement?

Very few of us are comfortable with the position we find ourselves in: choosing between universalism of one particularism versus multiple particularisms. I have elsewhere suggested (with reference to critical theorizing on IR and security) that a third option is available.

What we need, perhaps, is not a global South perspective on mediation (i.e. a new particularism) but a global perspective on mediation from the (global) South. The latter is understood as addressing the limitations of the existing literature as viewed from the (global) South toward a better approach to mediation.

Then, what would be fruitful for the purposes of mediation, I think, would be to focus on ideas and practices, their weaknesses and strengths; find out how much we have learned from each other, and not focus on presumed differrences. We could seek to re-discover Ghandian origins of Peace and Conflict Studies, for instance, as opposed to pushing aside this tradition as ‘Northern’. For, a ‘Southern’ perspective on peace and conflict has been constitutive of Peace and Conflict Studies, in all its strengths and weaknesses.

This proposal for a global perspective on mediation from the (global) South, I suggest, is also in the spirit of mediation, re-discovering our already existing common ground – not merely seeking to create new common ground.