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Keystone Conference: Are We A Field – Moderator’s Outline

Moderator: Carrie Menkel-Meadow
Pro: We are A Field with Juliana Birkhoff
Con: We are Not a Field with Peter Adler

Introduction: (CMM)

Let us start by asking, why do we ask this question of whether or not we are a “field”?
Why do we care? We want:

  • Recognition
  • Respect for the work we do in the world
  • Love and appreciation (the affective component of knowledge-based respect
  • Control over our work and control over who does it
  • Organized and systematic theory development and practice protocols or ‘best practices” commonly agreed to

So what does it mean to say that a particular body of work or practice is a “field”?

Think about what your principal work identification is….mine is not mediator, but educator…so some of us have “multiple professional fields” that we consider our knowledge base or our occupational community. We might be members of different fields for different reasons (knowledge acquisition and development, social affinity, purposive affinity (social and political or occupational goals), credentialing and licensure, prestige, social accomplishment, training, “escape” from another professional identity (e.g. lawyers who become mediators),etc. How do we self-identify? Why does it matter and then how do we aggregate to create group or professional identifications and for what purposes.

We will explore those questions here, but first, a few observations:

1. What is a “field”? This can be defined in several different ways:

  1. A Discipline is a systematic body of knowledge to be learned and studied with methods particular to its boundaries;
  2. An Occupation is the work we do, often taking the form of a “career” of structured study and progression –as contrasted to a simple “job” or “work” that we do to get paid;
  3. A Profession is a formally regulated and recognized occupation—usually consisting of a discrete body of knowledge which must be mastered, demonstrated and certified, either by the state or by some professional body, legally charged with the responsibility for certifying membership;
  4. A Calling connotes a special relationship to work, whether spiritual, religious, political or “affective”—it is a sense in which one is “made for” or designed to do a particular kind of work in the world;
  5. A Practice (whether regulated like medicine or not, like bonsai planting) is the use of specialized knowledge to accomplish or create particular outcomes in the world (to be distinguished from a discipline or field which may “simply” create abstract knowledge or theories, without reference to their use (distinguished from Donald Schon’s “theories-for-use” (The Reflective Practitioner)
  6. A Field connotes a bounded body of knowledge, which is studied, transmitted to others, progresses or changes and may include practices, as well as “theories” at various levels (high theory, applications of theory, skill sets and particular practices, e.g. active listening, reframing, caucuses).

2. How is a field or profession constituted ?

Sociologists of the professions usually describe the basic elements of the development of a profession as:

  1. specialized knowledge
  2. advanced education
  3. licensure or credential or certification (by peers or state authorities)
  4. entry controls (see the desire for “limited entry” or monopolies or oligopolies in some professions
  5. ethics codes
  6. self-regulation and control of disciplinary apparatus
  7. formal (either state-based) or internal (self-regulation) disciplinary procedures for monitoring quality, sometimes with formal grievance procedures
  8. continuing education (whether formally required or not)
  9. on-going “professional development” (in some cases formal feedback mechanisms like apprenticeships, internships, formal evaluations special publication and other forms of internal communication

3. How do we know productive fields or occupations from those in trouble?

See Howard Gardner, Mihaly Czizentimihaly and William Damon, Good Work for contrasts of treatments of healthy professions (like geneticists-with shared purposes, scientific protocols and high ethics codes) with declining professions (journalism corrupted by commercialism and celebrity; law?

4. Consider other professions or fields that have gone before “mediation” –others with multi-disciplinary constituent fields, the creation of both academic disciplines or practice fields:

  1. Communication
  2. Women’s studies
  3. Policy planning
  4. Decision sciences
  5. Neuropsychology


  1. Emergency Medical specialists (physician’s assistants, nurse practitioners)
  2. Mid-wives
  3. Paralegals
  4. Computer Technologists/programmers

How do they ask for and receive (or not) recognition/certification, etc.? Why do they want/need it? State regulation of activity versus professional pride, etc.

5. Consider how new knowledge forms itself into disciplines or practices :

  1. Game Theory (abstract, academic discipline used to study and serve political interests of managing Cold War, decision making under uncertainty)
  2. Neuroscience-new forms of interdisciplinary science, biological bases of “psychological” states or information
  3. Humanitarian aid—formally “neutral” and unprofessionalized international relief, becoming professionalized (standards, protocols, ethics and customs) and less neutral (see e.g. Sarah Chayes, The Punishment of Virtue: Afghanistan After the Taliban (2006)
  4. Reconstitution/crises of the “big 3” of traditional professions:
    1. Clergy (scandals, secular and religious reconfigurations, gay marriage and clergy
    2. Law (commercialization, competition from paralegals, mediators, others)
    3. Medicine (regulation, bureaucratization and controls by third party payers (insurance, etc.)

With opportunities for change, competition, transformation and complexity—will old professions “share” with new knowledge bases or “compete” and “control” (e.g. the law/mediator debate)….

So consider these questions:

  1. How do you professionally identify?
  2. Is Mediation a field, discipline, calling, occupation, profession, or merely a “job”; finally,
  3. Why does it matter to you/us if we are a field or not….

Julianna and Peter will now share their views Pro and Con and talk about why this question should or should not matter to us as mediators…then we will open the panel up to discussion for us all….


Carrie J. Menkel-Meadow

A founder of the dispute resolution field, Professor Menkel-Meadow came to UC Irvine School of Law, as a Founding Faculty Member (and Chancellor’s Professor) from Georgetown University Law Center, where she was the A.B. Chettle, Jr. Professor of Dispute Resolution and Civil Procedure and Director of the Georgetown-Hewlett Program in… MORE >

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