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Negotiation in Its Social Context
Gale Miller & Robert Dingwall
Editors’ Note: Before metaphor and underneath framing lies the structure in which you find yourself negotiating. Because the structural elements are often buried, they can go unremarked. But many times, there is a choice of structure, or dispute domain, within which you may be able to pursue your negotiation. The authors use two particular domains of negotiation to explain how this works....and how you might foresee a need to switch to another process. This chapter should be read in conjunction with Gross on Arbitration’s Shadow.
As sociologists have recognized for more than a century, conflict is a fundamental form of social relationship. Writing before World War I, the great German sociologist Georg Simmel (1955) showed that conflict linked at least two parties together through mutual opposition. This often produces stable patterns of interaction that are shaped by the parties’ orientations both towards each other and towards available resolutions. As social relationships, conflicts are embedded in social contexts, what Miller and Holstein (1996) have called dispute domains, whose organization constrains the possibilities for the negotiation of disputes and of their resolution. Conflict resolution involves more than eliminating issues of disagreement; it is a process of replacing past assumptions and interaction patterns with new ones.
Conflict negotiations necessarily orient to the divisions between conflicting parties. However, these interactions do not take place in isolation. Negotiations may also be influenced by environmental requirements to orient to institutional resolutions (such as professional, legal and organizational responses) versus facilitating resolutions constructed by disputing parties. The environments may also promote the engagement of other parties, whether third party interveners or agents such as lawyers. This difference points to Simmel’s (1950) observation that the possibility of conspiracy always arises when three participants are involved, so that two may, consciously or unconsciously, align against the third. Environmental variations are also captured by the notion of dispute domains, whose social organization facilitate some constructions of conflict issues, strategies and roles, and militate against others.
This is not to say that dispute domains are fully prescribed by institutional environments. Institutional policies and procedures are—to varying degrees—open to continuing interpretation by negotiating parties who determine their practical meaning for particular negotiations. This is one reason why every negotiation is somewhat distinctive, even those that take place within the same dispute domain. Consider, for example, media reports on negotiations between law enforcement officials and Ammon Bundy about the terms under which members of his protest group would leave the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge near Burns, Oregon. There is a sense in which the negotiations began in November of 2015, when some members of the protest made demands that the Harney County Sheriff could not grant (Baker 2016). The negotiations were transformed into a law enforcement issue when the protesters took occupancy of the refuge in January, 2016. The new institutional environment (dispute domain) provided law enforcement officers with a number of new options, including directly challenging and arresting the occupiers.
Initially, law enforcement officials chose to forgo these options; instead, they offered the protesters “safe escort out” of the refuge, an offer that Bundy declined (Zaitz 2016). They also allowed protest group members to leave and return to the refuge unfettered. Law enforcement officials reconsidered their options over the next 2-3 weeks, ultimately arresting 8 members and killing another in a confrontation outside the refuge. The officials also ceased allowing remaining group members to leave the refuge without surrendering to background checks and possible arrest. All of these actions were consistent with a law enforcement dispute domain, although they represented a shift in tactics within this dispute domain. We see the practical impact of the negotiating officers’....
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