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Discursive positioning in theory and practice: a case for narrative mediation

This is a study of the usefulness of the concept of ‘discursive positioning’ in the practice of mediation and in the analysis of what happens in mediation. Mediation, as typically practised, has developed within the general philosophical framework of modernist thought, exemplified in mediation by the problem-solving method. Several foundational assumptions of the problem-solving method are identified: a) the idea of the mediator as a neutral facilitator; b) the idea of negotiating on the basis of underlying interests or needs rather than polarised positions; c) the idea of a win-win resolution in the form of an agreement. In this study, these foundational concepts are examined first in terms of the critiques that have been raised against them. They are further examined through the lens of postmodern and social constructionist thought and found inadequate in their accounting for the cultural conditions that give rise to people’s interests. A theory of discourse and discursive positioning is outlined which explains how people take up positions in relation to discourse in the process of making an utterance in conversation. Such utterances also implicitly or explicitly call others into position in relations within discourse. The concept of discursive positioning is used in this study as a theoretical tool, a practical tool and a research tool. For the research purpose, Critical Discourse Analysis is adapted to include attention to the negotiation of discursive positions in conversation. This study uses this method of discourse analysis to demonstrate therapeutic change by tracking shifts in discursive positioning. Two transcripts of role-played mediation conversations are examined. One of these is used to demonstrate how a narrative mediator can make use of discursive positioning as a conceptual tool for practice. The second role-play is analysed to show the shifts in discursive positioning negotiated in the course of the conversation. The analysis of conversation through using the concept of discursive positioning as a research tool makes cultural influences visible in discourse in the very moment of their utterance. An approach to mediation that takes discursive power relations into account is then articulated. While a single conversation cannot change a pervasive social discourse, people can, in conversation, re-position themselves within discourse. This kind of analysis avoids constructing people as determined within discourse and supports a conceptualisation of personal agency achieved through discursive positioning. This study demonstrates the effect of using discursive positioning as a conceptual tool in practice through tracking the discursive shifts that take place in mediation. In the process, it establishes claims for narrative mediation as an ethical and effective practice that addresses power relations and cultural influences on relationships. The analysis of discursive positioning makes the effects of this practice visible and enables a theoretically robust account to be given of this practice.
Type of thesis
Winslade, J. (2003). Discursive positioning in theory and practice: a case for narrative mediation (Thesis, Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)). The University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10289/13986
The University of Waikato
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