Conflict, Conciliation and Computer-Mediated Communication: using online dispute resolution to explain the impact of media properties on relational communication

  • Matthew Billings

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisPhD


This thesis investigates how the properties of communication media impact upon relational communication. It uses the special case of conciliated conflict as a lens for exploring the relational impact of mediation. It argues that, by providing situations of relational asymmetry and uncertainty that must be addressed, conciliation offers a novel test for existing accounts of CMC. This thesis compares existing accounts of CMC with accounts of conciliation and situates them in the broader domain of communication theory. It argues that there are parallels between the relational impact of CMC and conciliation. This relational impact is explored in a series of experiments and observations of mediated interaction. First this thesis presents a grounded theory of conciliation. This indicates that conciliators seek to create a ‘safe-space’ in which interaction occurs. The dimensions of safety are defined and explored, and a coding-schedule for measuring conciliator behaviour is proposed. Second, it observes and compares conciliators’ practice in online environments (video-mediated communication and text-based) to assess how the environment alters the dimensions of safety. Third, it evaluates how the design of online forums influences community behaviour. The findings from the studies are integrated into a framework of mediation. This indicates that media properties influence the creation and maintenance of a safe space and suggests that varying media properties will shape the structure, timing and availability of information; impacting upon the relationship through increased or reduced uncertainty and asymmetry. Furthermore, these findings are integrated with the literature to provide a Model of Relational Communication. This model outlines the communication process, and suggests that there are steps at which asymmetry and uncertainty may be introduced into the relationship. Finally, the thesis presents guidelines for practitioners wishing to adopt CMC as a tool for dispute resolution, and for designers wishing to develop environments to support this practice.
Date of Award1 Dec 2008
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bath
SponsorsEconomic and Social Research Council
SupervisorLeon Watts (Supervisor)

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