Social Icons facebook Twitter YouTube Kanal Instagram
Bielefeld Graduate School
in History and Sociology
Logo der Einrichtung
Logo der Einrichtung

Justus Heck

Towards an interactional theory of mediation

It has become common ground to analyze mediation as a particular type of interaction that aims at consensual agreements. Although the mediation research has long been aware of the importance of interaction related questions, there are few attempts to systematize especially empirical findings in a goffmanian way. Hence, in my dissertations I want to advance the interactional analysis of mediation. For a theoretical framework I draw upon Niklas Luhmann's systems theory and especially on his sociology of law as well as on systems theoretical adaptions of Erving Goffman's work.

My research questions are: (1) how does mediation as interaction make compromise more likely in comparison to bilateral negotiation, therapy, and law suits? (2) In what ways does mediation as a meta-conflict transform the original conflict procedurally and produce a decision? Where does the "conflict inertia" stem from and how can mediation handle it? (3) What difference does the third-party make in the process of dispute resolution in comparison to bilateral negotiation and law suits? How can the impartial position interactionally be secured and how can it likewise be endangered? (4) How do situational circumstances influence the mediator's role and mediation procedure, namely if the mediator and the parties are present at the same time in a "triadic situation" or if the mediator shuttle between the parties in "dyadic situations"?

Starting point of my dissertation is a fourfold critique of previous mediation research briefly described below. Firstly, research focuses too often on the justification or the critique of mediation, making an effort to proof or disproof, for example, whether mediation really enhances parties' satisfaction in comparison to law suits. However, the results are mixed and often resemble more a political debate. And: if each party has to concede, how satisfied can they be? I would like to draw the attention to the structural relation between the rule of law and mediation instead. Secondly, studies inspired by game or decision theory highlight the circumstances that lead parties to consensual agreement. One is, for example, if parties are playing indefinitely repeated games. In a more complex version, scholars ask how efficient mediation is under varying circumstances. But these studies pay no attention to the situation of mediation as such. They tend to ignore that conflicts and conflict settlement are communicative processes as well as that mediation is a procedural interaction similar to law suits (which is also true for investigations in the sociology of professions, in legal anthropology, and in international relations).

Thirdly, previous research has concentrated rather implicitly either on what I call "triadic situations" when the mediator and the parties are both present at the same time or on what I call "dyadic situations" when the mediator shuttles between the parties like in private sessions. The difference these situational circumstances make for mediation is particularly clear with regard to the role of the mediator. That is the reason why I compare both situations in the light of interaction sociology. Finally, I argue that (social) exchange is being established in mediation. Strong legal or differently backed positions are bartered for concessions, exchange, and cooperation. E.g., the execution of threats can therefore be suspended. This is a puzzling case for theories of power and exchange.

Publications (Selection)

  • Heck, Justus (2015): Goffmans "Asyle" (1961), in Kühl, Stefan (Hrsg): Schlüsselwerke der Organisationsforschung, Wiesbaden: VS Verlag.

  • Heck, Justus; Gesigora, Christoph (2015): Peter M. Blaus "The Dynamics of Bureaucracy" (1955), in Kühl, Stefan (Hrsg): Schlüsselwerke der Organisationsforschung, Wiesbaden: VS Verlag

  • Heck, Justus (2015): Mediationsforschung als Selbstbeschreibung. Ein soziologischer Kommentar, in Perspektive Mediation, Wien: Verlag Österreich.


Jahrestagung der Sektionen Rechts- und Professionssoziologie mit dem Beitrag "Neutralität trotz Einfluss? Das 'doing neutrality' von Richtern und Schlichtern" in Frankfurt am Main, Oktober 2015

Vortrag im Forum 5 des Konfliktmanagementkongresses des Niedersächsischen Justizministeriums zur Frage "Warum kommt die Mediation nicht an? Kann die Wissenschaft das Paradoxon lösen?" mit dem Titel "Das sogenannten Mediationsdefizit in soziologischer Perspektive" in Hannover, September 2015

Dritter Kongress deutscher Rechtssoziologie-Vereinigungen "Die Versprechungen des Rechts" mit dem Titel "Neutralität in der Mediation. Vom Gesicht und Gesichtsverlust des Vermittlers" und in Kooperation mit C. Gesigora mit einem zweiten Beitrag mit dem Titel "Mediation in Organisationen" in Berlin, September 2015

10. Kolloquium der Forschungsgruppe Mediation mit dem Beitrag "Neutralität in der Mediation. Vom Gesicht und Gesichtsverlust des Vermittlers" und in Kooperation mit C. Gesigora mit einem zweiten Beitrag "Mediation in Organisationen" in Hamburg, Juni 2015

Annual meeting of the "Vereniging voor de Sociaalwetenschappelijke bestudering van hat Recht" (VSR) with the presentation "The ambivalent blessing of mediation for the system of law" (paper session) in Antwerp, January 2015

Annual meeting of the Association of Lawyers of Cologne with the presentation "Conflict and mediation from a sociological perspective" in Cologne, November 2014

Congress of the German Society of Sociology (DGS) with the presentation "Das Erziehungsprogramm der Mediationsindustrie" (engl. "The educational programm of mediation industry"), section sociology of professions, in Trier, October 2014

Participant and Organizer of the conference "Sociology of Mediation" at the Zentrum für Interdisziplinäre Forschung (ZiF) with the presentation "Vermittelnde Dritte aus interaktionssoziologischer Perspektive" (engl. "Mediating third parties from an interactional perspective") in Bielefeld, September 2014

Participant of the working group "interaction sociology", section sociology of knowledge of the German Society for Sociology (DGS), on the occasion of a workshop at Bielefeld University in July 2014 with the presentation "Triadische Konfliktbearbeitung in Mediationsinteraktionen" (engl. "Triadic dispute processing in mediation interaction")

Annual meeting of the Law and Society Association (LSA) with the presentation "The difference the mediator makes from an interactional perspective" (paper session) in Minneapolis, May 2014

BGHS workshop on the book "Transconstitutionalism" with its author Prof. Marcelo Neves (Brasilia) in December 2013

ISA/RCSL congress "Sociologie du droit et Action politique" with the presentation "The Mediating Rabbi. The mediation process and the role of the intermediary from an interactional perspective" (paper session) in Toulouse, September 2013

Submitted paper "The Mediating Rabbi. The mediation process and the role of the intermediary from an interactional perspective" and presentation at the ISA/RCSL congress "Sociologie du droit et Action politique" in Toulouse, September 2013


Winter term 2015/16
Neutrality in Conflicts
Grundbegriffe der Soziologie
Kolloquium "Die Arbeit der Professionen" zusammen mit Herrn Prof. Schützeichel

Summer term 2014
Sociological Theory (Sociology and Criticism)

Winter term 2014/15
Mediation in sozialen Systemen
Grundbegriffe der Soziologie

Summer term 2014
Sociological Theory (Übung)

Winter term 2013/14
Grundbegriffe der Soziologie (Übung)
Goffman's Interaktionssoziologie

Summer term 2013
Conflict Resolution (Konfliktbearbeitung)
Klassikerseminar Georg Simmel

-> more News


Current volume InDi

Promoted by:

Initiative for Excellence
to Promote Institutions of
Higher Education
(First Funding Period 2007-2012,
Second Funding Period 2012-2017)

Promoted by: