Date of Award


Degree Name

EdD Doctor of Education

Dissertation Committee

Steven A. Gelb, PhD, Director; Allen Snyder, JD; Patricia Geist, PhD


dispute mediation, Distributed cognition, Ethnography, Leadership studies, mediator, Phenomenology, storytelling, story listening


In spite of a long history and wide-spread usage, dispute mediation has developed largely in the absence of theories to corroborate its practices. Mediators are taught techniques during their training to help disputants communicate; however, the kinds, patterns and evocation of disputant discourse that may further advance the mediation process have received little attention. In particular, stories may have been overlooked as a means in the creation of mutual understanding and in the promotion of relationship. At the same time, some mediators disavow storytelling as an acceptable type of discourse as they believe that the focus of the activity is on the present and future. Framed in distributed cognition theory, this study considers mediation as an activity and examines functions served by storytelling, the relevance of past history to both the disputants and to the mediator; and the patterns of storytelling and story listening that appear to affect understanding, and subsequently, relationship. Data collected from interviews with 10 mediators approached ethnographically, and data derived from five videotaped mediation simulations viewed phenomenologically, represent the perspectives of mediators and disputants. In conclusion, story in mediation is the means in which understanding is created both within and between persons, and offers potential for intrapersonal and interpersonal growth. Past history as authored in the form of autobiographical, biographical and/or cultural stories of disputants, forms the lens through which each disputant views the conflict and the other person. Mediators also relate past history as story to reframe the understanding of the conflict for their clients. Story completeness, coherence and clarity, and opportunity as enabled by storyteller/mediator abilities and orientation towards the activity influence listening, understanding and relational outcomes. Consequently, a broader understanding of the ways in which mediators can encourage and support disputant stories may have implications for mediation as an activity directed towards fostering responsive, caring and interdependent relationships.

Document Type

Dissertation: Open Access