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The Possibility of Popular Justice

A Case Study of Community Mediation in the United States

Sally Engle Merry and Neal Milner, Editors

Publication Year: 1994

The Possibility of Popular Justice is essential reading for scholars and practitioners of community mediation and should be very high on the list of anyone seriously concerned with dispute resolution in general. The book offers many rewards for the advanced student of law and society studies. --Law and Politics Book Review "These immensely important articles--fifteen in all--take several academic perspectives on the [San Francisco Community Boards] program's diverse history, impact, and implications for 'popular justice.' These articles will richly inform the program, polemical, and political perspectives of anyone working on 'alternative programs' of any sort." -- IARCA Journal "Few collections are so well integrated, analytically penetrating, or as readable as this fascinating account. It is a 'must read' for anyone interested in community mediation." --William M. O'Barr, Duke University "You do not have to be involved in mediation to appreciate this book. The authors use the case as a launching pad to evaluate the possibilities and 'impossibilities' of building community in complex urban areas and pursuing popular justice in the shadow of state law." --Deborah M. Kolb, Harvard Law School and Simmons College Sally Engle Merry is Professor of Anthropology, Wellesley College. Neal Milner is Professor of Political Science and Director of the Program on Conflict Resolution, University of Hawaii.

Published by: University of Michigan Press

Series: Law, Meaning, and Violence

Part 1: Defining Popular Justice

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pp. 3-30

How possible is popular justice? We can imagine a genuinely popular justice as one that is locally controlled, nonprofessional, and procedurally informal and that envisages a renewed community and decisions made according to community norms. This image of justice arises as an ideal only in societies that already have state...

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Sorting Out Popular Justice

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pp. 31-66

Popular justice has appeared in a wide array of forms and in highly diverse locations throughout the world: in revolutionary socialist states, in fascist states, in capitalist welfare states, and in postcolonial socialist states. It is sometimes part of a government strategy to promote "law and order" by extending state authority to regions...

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The Future of Alternative Dispute Resolution: Reflections on ADR as a Social Movement

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pp. 67-87

The idea of using nonjudicial third parties to help settle big and small disputes has received considerable attention in the last decade. Enthusiasm for alternative dispute resolution (ADR) comes from a variety of sources. Some judges have endorsed it as a way of reducing court delays. Certain scholars have been attracted...

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Evaluation of Community-Justice Programs

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pp. 89-122

There is a small and aging evaluative literature on community-justice programs. Some of it is published, but there are few recent published studies. Most evaluations remain in the "gray literature": unpublished, minimally circulated papers and reports assessing the success or effectiveness of particular programs in particular...

Part 2: San Francisco Community Boards and the Meaning of Community Mediation

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Community Boards: An Analytic Profile

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pp. 125-168

This chapter uses the data collected through the evaluation project to describe and analyze the conflict-resolution activity of San Francisco Community Boards (SFCB) during the period between 1977 and 1984. SFCB changed considerably both during and subsequent to the study reported here. The portrait and analysis presented...

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Organizing for Community Mediation: The Legacy of Community Boards of San Francisco as a Social-Movement Organization

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pp. 169-199

The history of the San Francisco Community Boards program has been dynamic and full of changes, controversies, contention, and acclaim. In examining this history, we can identify several stages of development: initiation and identity formation (1976-79), expansion and experimentation (1980-83), contraction and accountability...

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Justice from Another Perspective: The Ideology and Developmental History of the Community Boards Program

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pp. 201-238

The origins and development of the San Francisco Community Boards (SFCB) ideology and program are a phenomenon more than a specific, descriptive event. Some of the chapters in this book look at SFCB from different analytical perspectives. Beyond the requirements of different disciplines, perhaps this is the only recourse that other...

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What Mediation Training Says—or Doesn't Say—about the Ideology and Culture of North American Community-Justice Programs

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pp. 239-264

Training takes on a broad political and ideological dimension here. It is not simply a transfer of technology. Teaching people to mediate is the key in this social-transformation theory, which links visions of informal justic to broader visions of social change (a "nation of peace makers"). Training is the foundation for the strategies...

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Dispute Transformation, the Influence of a Communication Paradigm of Disputing, and the San Francisco Community Boards Program

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pp. 265-327

A transformational perspective on disputing starts with an awareness of disputes as socially constructed phenomena (Mather and Ygnvesson 1980-81). Disputes are considered "fluid" (Merry and Silbey 1982), "subjective, unstable, reactive, complicated and incomplete" (Felstiner, Abel, and Satrat 1980-81). Language, participants, and...

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Police and "Nonstranger" Conflicts in a San Francisco Neighborhood: Notes on Mediation and Intimate Violence

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pp. 329-353

The reconciliation of disputes between people in close relationships-spouses, lovers, parents, and children-would seem to have a particular affinity with the values and aims of a program like San Francisco Community Boards. Given the program's emphasis on intervening in conflicts before they escalate into violence that...

Part 3: Contested Words: Community, Justice, Empowerment, and Popular

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The Paradox of Popular Justice: A Practitioner's View

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pp. 357-378

In the past decade mediation and other forms of alternative dispute resolution have emerged as a challenge to the prevailing modes of resolving conflicts. In their efforts to capture a legitimate space many proponents of the community- or popular-justice movement engage in a rhetoric of community empowerment and social...

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Local People, Local Problems, and Neighborhood Justice: The Discourse of "Community" in San Francisco Community Boards

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pp. 379-400

The story of community told in the San Francisco Community Boards literature is one in which the involvement of local people in mediating local problems will create a moral order of neighbors, and in this way produce a political and moral alternative to an increasingly expansive state (Shonholtz 1984). The discourse of voluntarism...

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Community Organizing through Conflict Resolution

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pp. 401-433

In this chapter I examine the politics of community conflict resolution projects, such as the San Francisco Community Boards, by locating their activities in the larger historical context of community and neighborhood organizing. Where does the use of dispute resolution as a means for developing community fit into the array of...

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When Is Popular Justice Popular?

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pp. 435-451

In this paper I will argue that "popular justice" movements are not usually popular, in the sense of being locally controlled or bottomup in origin, but rather movements that originate in centers of power and then try to connect with local populations for purposes of control (Yngvesson 1989). I will distinguish San Francisco Community...

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The Impossibility of Popular Justice

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pp. 453-474

My argument is that in the West popular justice, as it is currently understood, is impossible. To illustrate the argument I draw on the experience of the San Francisco Community Boards program. This program represents the most rigorous commitment to popular justice in the U.S. and is immensely influential (Harrington and...


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pp. 475-477


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pp. 479-488

E-ISBN-13: 9780472023998
E-ISBN-10: 0472023993
Print-ISBN-13: 9780472083442
Print-ISBN-10: 0472083449

Page Count: 504
Illustrations: tables
Publication Year: 1994

Series Title: Law, Meaning, and Violence