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Communication in conflict and problem-solving: a study of dialogue in everyday life

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Thesis type
(Thesis) Ph.D.
Date created
This dissertation provides a theoretical framework for a multi-disciplinary approach to communication in conflict and problem-solving. It sheds light on best practices of communication, with a focus on dialogue in multi-party decision-making, conflict intervention, policy-making and organizational process design situations. It is undertaken as action research to aid mediators, conflict interveners and facilitators in design of deliberative decision-making processes involving groups with diverse backgrounds, who are sometimes in disagreement. The investigator gained privileged access to three different groups of dialogue-based events in Western Canada: one on Canadian involvement in war and economic development policy in Afghanistan, one on development of organizational conflict resolution policy, one on drug policy consultation in the City of Vancouver, British Columbia. Analysis of events is grounded in theories of interpretation and dialogue, and considers the historical context of mediation as an emerging field of professional practice. This dissertation’s concept of the everyday life context of events draws on anthropology of urban life, critical studies of power and discourse, conflict studies, the notion of interpretive flexibility from science and technology studies, and the constructivist philosophy of technology. This dissertation’s theoretical framework is based on a conflict intervention model that illuminates interpersonal and mass media communication studies. Analysis of dialogue events considers the role of professional expertise in dialogue process design. It considers the inter-relationship of content of discourse, of the process of communication, and of social and cultural effects of conflict and problem-solving in dialogue situations. It concludes that dialogue, debate and diffusion are interdependent ‘options’ of communication in conflict and problem-solving. Though a broad definition of dialogue is used, dialogue is found to comprise a small fraction of any of the three groups of events. These findings support a method that better connects problems that people discuss in dialogue events, problems of dialogue-making which are inherent to such events, and perceived success or failure of these encounters. Finally, this dissertation considers various historical case studies to argue that egalitarian, transformative discourse can be planned, but not without timely recognition of specific and often transitory conditions that lead to “moments of opportunity” for dialogue.
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Supervisor or Senior Supervisor
Thesis advisor: Anderson, Robert
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