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Durham University

Institute of Advanced Study

Mediation for the Twenty First Century: Connecting the Local and the Global


Upon taking office, the new Secretary General of the United Nations (UN) indicated that his priority for his term of office would be developing UN capacity for mediation and conflict prevention. New mediation, framed as conflict prevention, needs to be concerned not only with ending violence but with re-building fractured societies and creating the conditions that will prevent conflict from recurring. It is agreed that a greater range of participants should be involved in the mediation process but there remains a lack of experience as to how to ensure meaningful input. This project seeks to deconstruct the dominant security paradigms within which international mediation operates to reveal the limitations that these paradigms impose on thinking in the field. In so doing it aims to address a gap in the theory and practice of mediation by articulating a new concept of mediation that moves beyond evaluation of compliance with policy to interrogate what mediation seeksto achieve. It will do this through collaboration with mediation practitioners and policy makers to bring together conceptual, doctrinal and practical perspectives on how to begin to reconstruct the field from the ground up.

Term: Michaelmas 2019

Principal Investigator: Dr Catherine Turner, Associate Professor, Durham Law School (Deputy Director, Durham Global Security Institute),

Principal Investigator: Dr May Darwich, Assistant Professor in the International Relations of the Middle East, School of Government and International Affairs,

Project Description

Project Aim:
This research starts with the need to rethink what mediation is for in the context of modern conflict. The project looks specifically at inclusive mediation, and how we need to move beyond simply adding more diverse actors to existing processes, but need to re-think and redesign the values of the process itself to take into account the needs and interests of all sections of society.

Upon taking office, the new Secretary General of the United Nations (UN) indicated that his priority for his term of office would be developing UN capacity for mediation and conflict prevention. This is a new departure for the UN, whose response to conflict for the past 20 years has been primarily reactive. It also marks a renewal in interest in mediation, a subject whose fundamental premise has not been subject to close scrutiny since the late 1990s. The current model of mediation remains located predominantly within international security paradigms. The primary aim of mediation remains to broker a ceasefire and restore stability to a conflict affected state. This is notwithstanding the fact that the nature of conflict and international security has changed dramatically in the past decades, moving from inter-state to primarily intra-state, with the impact borne disproportionately by civilians. Deals brokered by elite actors such as super-powers, governments and warlords increasingly cannot address the needs of those who have suffered most.

To address the complexity of modern conflict it will be necessary to look beyond established security paradigms. New mediation, framed as conflict prevention, needs to be concerned not only with ending violence but with re-building fractured societies and creating the conditions that will prevent conflict from recurring.[1] This inevitably requires the engagement of a much broader range of actors. The need for a more inclusive approach is already acknowledged in efforts to professionalise the field. In 2012 the UN issued its Guidance for Effective Mediation setting our core principles to guide the practice of mediation.[2] As a result the field of mediation has become increasingly professionalised. Mediation now operates as a specialised field of practice defined by normative frameworks that provide guidance and best practice examples for mediation practitioners within the UN system. Normative in this sense refers not only to the legal framework of international law that underpins the value system of the UN, but also the ‘soft’ normative frameworks of inclusivity and conflict sensitivity that shape modern mediation efforts. Correspondingly, recent literature in the field focuses predominantly on the evaluation of compliance with these norms rather than providing critical reflection on the role of those norms in shaping peacemaking behaviour.[3]

Research Questions:
This research asks how mediation processes can be better designed to address the needs of affected populations from the ground up rather than requiring diverse actors to articulate their needs and interests within parameters imposed by international organisations. This will inevitably involve deconstructing the international paradigms within which existing mediation initiatives are designed.

In this context three key themes have been identified for further research:

  1. The relationship between local/traditional conflict resolution and justice mechanisms and international efforts
  2. The influence of religion and religious communities on peacemaking
  3. The role of gender in mediation.

These thematic areas have been chosen because they are raised in most, if not all, mediation processes. They are key points of tension because while it is agreed that a greater range of participants should be involved in the mediation process, there is a lack of experience or understanding as to how to ensure these additional participants can have a genuine input.

The themes will be explored through three case studies. Each of the case studies raises cross cutting themes in relation to inclusive mediation and the interplay of local cultural and religious norms with international frameworks and actors. They also present practical examples of where these tensions are currently being addressed as part of ongoing mediation efforts. Under the current proposal each theme is enhanced by the expertise of one or more of the project participants or nominated external fellows[4];

For each theme and case study the research will ask;

  1. How do we draw on interdisciplinary tools to understand the needs and interests of diverse and often marginalised groups within a conflict-affected population?

  2. How do we design models of practice that ensures that these needs and interests are addressed in substance?

  3. What are the implications of accommodating a wider range of substantive interests for the definition of mediation itself?

The output from this research will take the form of a conference and a monograph. The conference will be international and will consist of a combination of invited expert speakers (internal and external) and a call for papers. It will represent an opportunity to showcase the work being done at Durham and to expand the network of academics and practitioners in this area. The primary scholarly output will be progress towards publication of a monograph. A work of this length is necessary to fully explore the complex questions raised by the research. In particular the monograph will present an in depth analysis of the difference between macro-level security paradigms within which mediation efforts traditionally operate and micro level analysis of the causes of conflict and the necessary response. The aim is to shift the focus of mediation away from the interests of international actors and towards those of the affected population.

[1] Report of the Secretary-General on enhancing mediation and its support activities, UN Doc. S/2009/189, 8 April 2009.

[2] United Nations Guidance for Effective Mediation, July 2012. The principles include

[3] See eg. Chester A. Crocker, Fen Osler Hampson and Pamela Aall, Managing Conflict in a World Adrift (United States Institute of Peace 2015)

[4] The precise choice of case studies and the scope of the research on each – ie whether state specific or regional- will be decided by further collaboration with fellows if the application is successful.


Project Events 2019/20

Workshop on Ideational Dimensions of Mediation in the 21st Century:

Identity, culture, religion, ethnicity among other ideational factors are salient features of international conflict and peace. Conflicting parties’ preferences and interests are often infused with ideational dimensions in shaping international peace. This workshop moves beyond interest-based analysis of mediation by focusing on how ideational dimensions in world politics affect the outcomes of mediation in militarised conflicts. Despite an extensive body of literature on international mediation, little theoretical and empirical attention has been devoted to the ideational attributes of the disputants or mediating third parties, and their effect on mediation. In light of the growing interest in the influence of ideational dimensions on international relations, this workshop explores how identity, religion, and culture among other ideational factors drives/hinders peace mediation. The workshop will be an opportunity to explore conceptual and empirical aspects related to various ideational dimensions in the mediation of militarized process.

For further information about the workshop please see the Events page.

Call for papers

To explore these questions, we invite proposals for a workshop to be held at Durham University on 6 November 2019. The workshop will be held as part of a project entitled ‘Mediation for the Twenty First Century’ sponsored by the Institute of Advanced Study at Durham University. Travel and accommodation will be covered for participants.

The workshop will revolve around the discussion of short papers of approximately 4,000 words, circulated at least two weeks prior to the workshop. The workshop will discuss each paper intensively, and after revisions all papers will be submitted towards a special issue or a special forum in an academic journal.

Proposals should include a 500-word abstract and a 150-word bio by 15 August 2019 to Dr. May Darwich and Dr. Catherine Turner

Workshop: Identity formation and peacemaking behaviour
06 November 2019

By invitation only: This event will take the form of an expert workshop brining together scholars from across disciplines who work on the formation of identity. The aim is to consider how identity is formed and how it underlies the behaviour of actors across the conflict spectrum when they engage with peacemaking initiatives. Participation is by invitation, but if you are interested in taking part please get in touch with Dr May Darwich (