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This article develops an analytic framework for comparing dispute processing within a single institution and across different cultures, by focusing on the transformation of disputes. Case studies from diverse nonwestern and western settings are examined to show how disputes change as they are processed in response to the interests of various participants. Disputants, supporters, third parties, and relevant publics seek to rephrase and thus transform a dispute by imposing established categories for classifying events and relationships (narrowing), or by developing a framework which challenges established categories (expansion). Disputes may be expanded by adding new issues, by enlarging the arena of discussion, or by increasing the number and type of active participants. Thus, how the dispute is defined (language) and the roles played by various participants are critical features of the dispute. We focus on the agent of transformation, with special attention to the degree of audience participation, particularly in dispute expansion. We suggest the importance of expansion as a mechanism through which new rules emerge in the legal process, and through which social change is linked to legal change.

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Law & Society Review

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© 1981 Law and Society Association. Reproduced with permission.

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© 1981 Law and Society Association. Reproduced with permission.