So what does school mediation thus consist of in the Belgian francophone landscape? At the heart of this collective work, the investigation carried out by Baptiste Dethier, founded on a battery of semi-structured interviews (in other words interviews with a flexible structure of themes) with 27 holders of school mediator posts, allows us to discern its contours. And to make a first observation: there has been a considerable boom in mediation services. The largest, the French Speaking Community of Belgium’s School Mediation Service, is double headed: a Brussels section (the SMSB) as well as a Walloon section (the SMSW). The former has some 56 ‘internal’ mediators, in other words each attached to some forty institutions in the Brussels region, whilst the latter has some thirty ‘external’ mediators spread over the different geographical areas of Wallonia and who only intervene on request. Their missions essentially relate to the prevention of violence or the phenomenon of dropping out of school. In the Brussels region there are also ‘local authority mediation services’ active in almost all of the 19 local authorities in the territory. These services are made up of external mediators whose missions are also centred on prevention and information. We will not extend this list any further, which could also have addressed diocesan services and those deployed by the city authorities.
For the sociologist Frédéric Schoenaers, in a chapter in which he addresses Baptiste Dethier’s empirical data, this motley institutional landscape is marked by a significant poly-centrism. ‘Responsibility for mediation is most certainly not taken on by a single actor (a minister for example, or an education and teaching central administrative body) which centralises its organisation and ‘institutional’ definition. On the contrary, since its emergence in the educational domain, several authorities have taken possession of it,’ he writes, stressing their lack of co-ordination. Beyond that, school mediation is also polysemous (plurality of meanings) and polymorphous (plurality of forms). ‘On listening to the professionals working within mediation, you realise that there does not exist a unanimously stable definition shared by everyone of what ‘school mediation’ is.’ There certainly exists a ‘minimal consensus,’ essentially based on the mediator’s neutrality and independence. Nevertheless ‘certain bones of contention observed between mediators for example pitted an exclusively reactive conception of what the definition of mediation should be (response to a singular inter-individual conflict) against a preventative conception (the aim of mediation is to anticipate, through working on detecting problems, a whole series of conflict situations).’ ‘Polymorphism’ for its part concerns a multiplicity of the forms of intervention used by school mediators. Baptiste Dethier explains it in these terms: ‘For certain people, mediation is seen in a quite precise and even traditional manner, in reference to types of more institutionalised mediation (familial, penal). The mediator is thus a neutral third party, independent, and whose job is not to provide solutions but to help people to get along with and listen to each other. For others, on the other hand, mediation is more widely an action devoted to the creation of social bonds, to providing people with support, if not to coaching, and no longer to just conflict management. Finally, others go so far as to state that they do no or very little mediation, and that their professional activity could just as easily have another name, without them agreeing on an alternative.’ In the final analysis the way mediation is disseminated throughout school institutions seems, concludes Frédéric Schoenaers, ‘relatively fragmented. There is fragmentation amongst initiative takers, fragmentation concerning definitions and a fragmentation of professional practices.’