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Justice and the Common Good in Dispute Resolution Discourse in the United States and the People’s Republic of China

  • Tim Murphy EMAIL logo


Rule of Law development initiatives typically include a preference for formal or State law over informal or customary law. In dispute resolution initiatives, formal court-based adjudication is regarded as the process most likely to promote economic development and certainly as preferable to less formal mechanisms such as mediation. This article compares formal and informal methods of dispute resolution with specific reference to the trajectories of adjudication in the United States and mediation in China. Whereas adjudication seeks generally to resolve disputes in accordance with justice, understood in classical Western thought as the rendering to each what is due, informal dispute resolution is oriented more towards the common good, understood classically as the maintenance of a peaceful social order that allows people to pursue their individual and collective goals in community. These conceptions of justice and the common good are not uncontroversial but their ideologies play a significant role in dispute resolution discourse in both the US and China. This article suggests that developments in each of these jurisdictions have brought about relatively successful pluralist or “hybrid” dispute resolution systems, a suggestion that speaks against any general or fixed preference in dispute resolution initiatives for formal over informal processes.

Funding statement: This work was supported by the CONEX program at Universidad Carlos III de Madrid, a program that is sponsored in part by Banco Santander. The CONEX program is also funded by the Spanish Ministry of Education, Culture and Sport (Grant/Award Number: ‘CEI-15-17’); the Spanish Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness (Grant/Award Number: ‘COFUND2013-40258’); and the European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme for Research and Technological Development (Grant/Award Number: ‘600371’).


For comments on earlier versions of this paper thanks are due to participants at the Law and Development Conference at Universidad Austral in Buenos Aires in October 2016; to participants at a City University of Hong Kong Law School staff seminar on 1st June 2017; and to Stéphanie de Moerloose, Jeff Parkey, Patrick Twomey, Ralph Weber, Diana Yun-Hsien, and an anonymous reviewer.


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Published Online: 2017-7-29
Published in Print: 2017-9-26

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