The inferential dynamics of reframing within dispute mediators’ argumentation
Dispute mediation is one of the first communicative activity types that has been studied from the perspective of argumentation theory; studies have concentrated on the role of the mediator as someone who, whilst maintaining neutrality, actively helps disputants to construct their own argumentative discussion, ideally aimed to co-construct a reasonable solution to their conflict. In this way, disputants experience a change in attitude and learn to be co-arguers, thus building mutual trust and experiencing a process of empowerment. Within the study of how mediators enable parties’ argumentation, there is a gap in the research on reframing, although it is well-known in the literature on conflict resolution that reframing is a central communicative competence for dispute mediators. By shifting parties away from initial incompatible frames (views), reframing promotes a positive change, purposefully operated by mediators to bring parties closer to their interests, so that a common ground for conflict resolution can be created. When introducing a reframing, mediators are asking the parties to move away from their previous frames, i.e. to make an inferential step. Mediators need to justify this step: in fact, parties in conflict are not naturally inclined to change their views if this change does not appear motivated. Therefore, framing is connected to mediators’ argumentation. This argumentative-inferential dimension of reframing is crucial if one wants to understand how it functions and why it can help the institutional goals of the activity type of dispute mediation. In our view, the inferential step that parties make in mediation is due to mediator’s argumentation. In other words, mediators propose arguments for reframing in order to shift parties away from preceding frames. Arguments for reframing are suggested by mediators but need to be accepted by the parties. Therefore, in order to make these arguments acceptable to the parties, mediators select premises that are shared between the parties, thus helping them focus on their common interests. In this project, the main innovation is to consider reframing as a mediator argumentative competence; the goal is to understand how reframing works and how it might be conductive to conflict resolution, by connecting it to the reconstruction of inference in argumentation, i.e. to the study of argument schemes in mediators’ argumentation. In this project, the Argumentum Model of Topics (AMT, Rigotti & Greco Morasso 2010) for the analysis of argument schemes is introduced as a theoretical and methodological tool in order to explain the inferential dynamics of reframing within mediators’ strategic manoeuvring (van Eemeren 2010). By distinguishing between a procedural (inferential) and a material (cultural or contextual) component of argument schemes, the AMT will help respond to the goal of this project. The procedural component of argument schemes, in terms of loci as sources of inference and maxims as inference rules, allows for explaining what type of inferential step mediators are asking to the parties. The reconstruction of material premises allows to elicit what parties’ shared premises are evoked in reframing and how these are connected to the parties’ deep interests, views and concerns. Ultimately, this research project, by introducing an argumentative interpretation of reframing, will help explain this concept, which is important for mediation theory and practice. At the same time, from a viewpoint of argumentation theory, the project sheds light on dispute mediation as an argumentative activity type. In more general terms, the study of reframing contributes to explain how, through communication and argumentation, society can avoid conflict escalation and find common ground even when individuals start from very different cultural or personal starting points.