Research project: Choreometrics in international mediation

Purpose — To provide a framework of choreometrics in mediation in order to create conducive environments for peacemaking and peacebuilding in mediated talks.

Approach – Multiple methods of qualitative research including personal interviews, narrative analysis, discourse analysis, coordinated management of meaning (CMM) and body movements in order to discuss the use of non-verbal techniques and technologies to prepare the mediated talks. Case studies from the Philippines, the Sudan, and Mali (where the author participated as mediation adviser) will provide the entry point for further exploration.

Findings – To learn that appropriate and proper preparation of the mediation room in highly volatile environments (cease fire) is contributing to a positive trajectory of mediated talks.

Research Limitations — The initial sample group will be small and not necessarily representative. There is a dearth of literature available, focusing heavily on dance therapy and the ‘Local’, yet no elevated to the level of international peacemaking.

Added value – The exploration of the linkages between dance, identity, political mediation, and the general multi-disciplinary approach has not been done to this day. The research will provide synergies between different scholars and practitioners and lead to furthering the story-telling aspect of research, while at the same time proffering a matrix/template of activities in order to foster a mediation environment conducive to peaceful outcomes.

Extended Abstract:
In the period between November and December 2014, I was part of a mediation support team, supporting the lead joint mediators of United Nations Special Envoy Haile Menkerios and African Union High Level Implementation Panel Thabo Mbeki. Part of the activity was to provide input to delegates from various groupings, forming the Sudanese Revolutionary Front (SRF) in Darfur, Sudan. The goal was to increase and strengthen delegations understanding of ceasefire modalities before engaging in negotiations with delegates from the Government of Sudan (GoS). While I typically start similar types of activities by making use of traditional workshop activities, such as frontal teaching, breaking up into group work, and then reconvening for an input session, I decided to deviate from the previously designed plan and to launch into an immersive exercise. The structure is to break down participants into 3 equal sized groups, with three different set of instructions. The game is to move all the available chairs in the conference room into specific settings. None of the groups are allowed to share their instructions nor to talk about it during the exercise. The exercise starts with the task to pull all the chairs according to the instructions given to the three groups and to continue the exercise until all the available chairs have been placed according to the tasks. Typically, and in almost all the situations I had to use the exercise, participants engaged into competitive modes of getting results, subduing other groups. While there is an initial spike in violent behavior, groups tire quickly, and then engage into positional bargaining with interesting outcomes. Out of 15 activities within the past 3 years, possibly only 1 training came to a collaborative conclusion of the activity. This outcome gave rise to further questions in mediation preparation: What moves are conducive to effective entry into the mediated process? What contextual information and environment filters mediation moves? Can the preparation of the mediation environment be linked to successful outcomes?
We do not know enough about how people communicate in different kinds of environments, and “negotiate” their differences despite different forms of communication, nor about how we obtain and organize the information needed to communicate appropriately and build agendas across languages and cultures. In order to address these issues, we need to learn about some of the institutional contexts within which international negotiations can occur and the local settings in which face-to-face communication takes place. Terms like communication, verbal and nonverbal expressions, agendas, language, culture, symbols, meaning, channels of information, problem solving, and negotiating strategies all presuppose historical conditions, knowledge about these conditions, and local circumstances within which negotiations occur. However, there is a dearth of research on cognitive, linguistic, and organizational dimensions of international mediation. And while practitioners agree that the setting of a negotiation room is either conducive or inhibiting creative problem-solving, the majority of the research done within the field of international negotiation dates from the 1970s-1980s. The formal literature on decision making seldom if ever includes a description of day-to-day settings. Even those who contest the rational model and examine cognitive biases and heuristics do not pay attention to the way choices are identified and examined in larger institutional contexts (e. g. Axelrod, 1976; Tversky and Kahneman, 1971; Slovic and Lichtenstein, 1968; Slovic, Fischoff, and Lichtenstein, 1976). The study of negotiations inevitably requires the examination of the discourse of preparing for and conducting negotiations, and the documents that are supposed to represent policy guidelines and summarize the events that took place. There are several perspectives available for the analysis of discourse and textual materials. The various approaches overlap and borrow from each other, but the general term used to refer to them is often “discourse analysis” (DA) as developed by linguists and others who have sought to go beyond a sentence-based analysis of language. A related view, conversation analysis (CA), was developed by sociologists and psychologists who have stressed the local, emergent nature of
everyday exchanges. An older view, the ethnography of speaking (ES), was developed by anthropological linguists in order to focus on the ethnographic functions of narrative speech and discourse for understanding face-to-face contacts in fairly self-contained communities or tribes.
This current research proposal aims to remedy the lack of further exploration of language, power, conflict and solidarity in a new geopolitical context of non-state armed actors, functioning outside of bureaucracies, and therefore outside of the scope of earlier research.

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