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Mediation’s failings in El Salvador and the limits of crusading universalism

Howarth, K. and Irvine, C. (2011) Mediation’s failings in El Salvador and the limits of crusading universalism. International Studies Review, 13 (2). pp. 358-363. ISSN 1521-9488

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International efforts to ameliorate violent conflict, broadly categorized as peacebuilding, have become indelibly associated with mediation (Webel and Galtung 2007). “Call in the mediators” is a popular cry in times of international crisis.1 Less clear, however, is whether those making such calls have a shared understanding of what mediators actually do and the values they bring in their wake. “Mediation” may seem a simple, even self-evident, concept. Yet a veritable industry has grown up over the last 30 years in training mediators and writing about their work. This article summarizes a recent analysis of five popular mediation texts, each purporting to have universal application and widely used to train mediators throughout the world. We find that although mediation has an ancient pedigree and thrives in diverse societies (see below, p. 10), these books are underpinned by a strong thread of liberal, democratic individualism. We then ask whether this particular values-base is helpful for mediators by considering the peculiar case of a successful mediation with unsuccessful consequences.