Tools of Structural Violence: The Standard Contract

This one is only an idea at this point, but here it goes. I spent my Saturday morning and afternoon this weekend at the 26th Annual Southern California Mediation Association Conference. I only attended one workshop this year, but it was well worth my investment of time.

The workshop, titled “Conflict Management Systems: Opportunities for Mediators as Organizational Conflict Management Consultants,” discussed the ease with which mediators could perform in the role of an organizational conflict management consultant. It was worthwhile for me not only because I have waxed philosophically of late as to whether I am going to be earning a living using my degree in the future, but also because as part of the workshop there was a discussion about business contracts as a source of conflict. The gist of what the presenter was saying is that in general, contracts could stand a bit more due diligence from both attorneys and conflict resolution professionals (read mediators) before they are unleashed upon the public.

I have touched on this idea, briefly, before. In that post I noted that clicking a checkbox acknowledging that you read a 120 page legal document so that you could download a $0.99 piece of software could leave you at a disadvantage should things go awry. Don’t feel bad, I have spoken to several lawyers who admit to this behavior. My point at the time was that this would put you into a situation of adverse selection, which is a subject that is well covered in this blog.

At the time I wrote that post, I had yet to discover structural violence. When presenter Michael Powell, Vice President of the American Arbitration Association, was discussing the process of contract design, it hit me like a ton of bricks. A contract can be designed to debilitate, damage, or destroy people and their aspirations. While this can be inadvertent, which is what Mr. Powell seemed to be proposing to begin with, there are probably some instances wherein there is intent to commit structural violence.

I would be remiss not to mention the other presenters, Rebecca Storrow, Ph.D. and Harold Coleman, Jr., both of whom are also Vice Presidents in the American Arbitration Association. They were very informative in terms of me pursuing a living in my field of study. They also touched on areas of academic interest to me. Dr. Storrow discussed conflict assessment and Mr. Coleman discussed internal models of alternative dispute resolution.

Again, at this point, the idea of contracts as instruments of structural violence is only an idea. I will be working on a thesis to explore this idea. I just find it interesting that ideas can come from anywhere. If you aren’t keeping an open mind, you are probably going to miss something.

One comment

  1. […] written before about the standard form contracts not being read (point 1) on a couple of occasions (here and here). I have found further commentary on the phenomena via the web; Seth Stevenson of Slate […]

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