Adversarial process

An adversarial process is one that supports conflicting one-sided positions held by individuals, groups or entire societies, as inputs into the conflict resolution situation, typically with rewards for prevailing in the outcome. Often the form of the process assumes a game-like appearance.

Adversarial politics[edit]

The use of a voting system to choose candidates to hold political and military power is often necessarily adversarial. This process requires each candidate to convince voters that they are more trustworthy in the expected future circumstances, than their opponent.

Adversarial politics takes place when one party (usually not in government) takes the opposite (or at least a different) opinion to that of the other (usually the government) even when they may personally agree with what the government is trying to do.

Those opposed to adversarial politics believe that politicians should state what they actually think rather than following the 'party line'. They consider adversarial politics to be cynical and intolerant, with ‘winning’ the driving principle versus attempting to establish the truth. Politicians captivated by the ‘struggle for victory’ corrupt the ideals that brought them into politics in the first place.

Adversarial politics is often blamed for turning the electorate away from politics and their right to participate in the democratic process of their country through voting at elections.

In the US, huge fundraising for presidential elections increasingly results in campaigns focused on personalities versus honest debate, and trading insults versus addressing substantive issues.

In the UK the most obvious example is Prime Minister's Questions, a weekly session where the two main parties loudly confront each other.

Adversarial legal process[edit]

The use of an adversarial process by the criminal or civil court to decide the social attitude to an alleged wrongdoing of a defendant, penalties to be imposed, and restitution to be awarded to their deemed victim often depends on the adversarial witness questioning.[1] This is adversarial as the opposing attorneys are competing to convince the judge to include or exclude evidence or witnesses, and competing to convince the judge or jury of the guilt or innocence of the defendant, and severity of the impact of the actions (if guilty) on the plaintiff or victim. Lawyers must be held to rather specific ethical codes, e.g. rules of civil procedure, to ensure that their tactics do not cause an undue burden on larger society, e.g. freeing defendants who have admitted that they are not only guilty but intend to offend again. Lawyers differ on whether the process should be seen as strictly adversarial, in order to ensure they retain the trust of clients and the overall process retains the trust of society, or whether the ethics of the larger society should play a role in their behavior.

Other examples[edit]

A third example of an adversarial process is the operation of market systems, e.g. commodity markets. In these, bid and ask prices are constantly compared, with sellers representing goods as being valuable and buyers haggling and claiming they are less valuable. Product markets tend to focus on the comparison of sellers' products with other sellers' products—the adversarial process itself making trustworthy information, e.g. as published in Consumer Reports or the Better Business Bureau, hard to compile and to obtain. Health advocates[who?] often claim that market systems are very difficult to reconcile with food, nutrition, agriculture or medicine's need to work well with living systems—a key complaint of the anti-globalization movement.

Alternative systems[edit]

The alternatives, including consensus decision making and deliberative democracy (which tend to alternate adversary, discussion, and voting over a longer period of time allocated to make the decision and explore implications), are ancient. However, they are less well studied in political science and economics. Most commentators[who?] are suspicious of the utopian goals of the advocates of such non-adversarial processes, viewing competition as essential to a good result.

Other activists argue that adversarial process works well and should probably be expanded to areas that are presently less adversarial. For instance they advocate "science courts" and "prediction markets" that would force the scientist, economist and technologist to put reputations and money on the line, rather than trusting them based on reputation without a disciplined follow-up to see if they were right or wrong. These ideas are increasingly popular in part because such alternative courts and markets can be easily started up on the Internet.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ p.54, MacNeil


  • MacNeil, Heather, Trusting Records: Legal, Historical and Diplomatic Perspectives, Springer, 2000