Summary of "Mediation, Citizen Empowerment and Transformational Politics"

Summary of

Mediation, Citizen Empowerment and Transformational Politics

By Edward W. Schwerin

Summary written by Tanya Glaser, Conflict Research Consortium

Citation: Edward W. Schwerin. Mediation, Citizen Empowerment and Transformational Politics. Westport, Connecticut: Praeger, 1995, 204 pp.

In his opening chapter Schwerin describes the historical and political events which prompted the development of transformational politics as an interdisciplinary field of study. Transformational politics recognizes a set of ethical imperatives, which includes support for grassroots political participation, social justice, human growth, ecological awareness, conflict resolution, and human conciliation and cooperation. Transformational politics pursues these goals through the empowerment of individuals and communities, which is believed to facilitate positive structural change.

Schwerin argues that while empowerment is the core concept of transformational ideologies, it remains a fuzzy concept. Participation in community mediation is generally thought to be empowering, so Schwerin begins his analysis of empowerment by examining the community mediation movement.

Chapter Two reviews the history of the Mediation Movement in the U.S., focusing particularly on volunteer community-based mediation and alternative dispute resolution (ADR). The author gives a general account of the mediation process, and of the mediator's role and use of power. "The ideology of community mediation claims that mediation resolves conflicts in ways that are empowering for both the participants and the community."[p. 8] Schwerin's research focuses on validating the narrower claim that mediation empowers mediators.

The third chapter explores the process of mediation in more detail, through case studies of very successful community mediation programs in Hawaii. These programs espouse the values of volunteerism and empowerment. Schwerin describes how these programs seek to implement these values, and how they gauge success in promoting these values. He finds that even within these programs, the concept of empowerment remains vague.

Clarifying the concept and developing a theory of empowerment would provide a basis for improving and refining transformational practice. It would also facilitate better research and empirical analysis of existing practice. Ultimately, such improved understanding of the basic concept of empowerment may enable the development of a model for mediator empowerment.

In Chapter Four, Schwerin presents his conceptual analysis of empowerment. Based on his research, Schwerin argues that the concept of empowerment is composed of eight elements: self-esteem, self-efficacy, knowledge and skills, political awareness, social participation, political participation, political rights and responsibilities, and access to resources. Schwerin defines empowerment as "the process of gaining mastery over one's self and one's environment in order to fulfill human needs."[p. 81] He describes the dynamic interrelation between the components of empowerment, and offers a model of the empowerment process.

Chapters Five and Six describe the research project based on this conceptual analysis, and report the results of that research. Schwerin compares the levels of empowerment found in leaders, mediators and trainees at the Honolulu Neighborhood Justice Center. While trainees showed marked increases in empowerment, results for mediators and leaders were more complex.

In Chapter Seven, Schwerin considers the implications of his findings for the future directions of community mediation and its potential for promoting broader social transformation. The author contrasts the transformative approach to mediation with more conservative approaches which emphasize professionalism and standardization. He argues that the conservative approaches grossly neglect the potential for mediation to be a vehicle for positive structural social change. However, historical trends tend to predict that the more conservative approaches will come to represent the dominant mediation ideology.

Schwerin's concluding chapter returns to the idea of transformational politics. He explores the possibilities of employing the concept of empowerment as a general social theory and paradigm for broader social movements. Schwerin expresses optimism that empowerment will become an increasingly central concept in social and political arenas, based on the nature of present social and political problems and the usefulness of the concept. To facilitate adoption of the empowerment paradigm, Schwerin summarizes his own findings, and suggests a number of questions for further study. Schwerin concludes by discussing the kinds of practice which transformational politics based on empowerment would support, and by sketching a practical agenda for transformational politics.