Since the 1990s, there has been an increasing interest in mediation in the Netherlands, as part of a set of ‘alternative dispute resolution’ methods. Politicians, lawyers and practitioners have embraced mediation as a legitimate method for settling disputes, alongside the adjudication of conflicts in courts of law. However, there is a striking lack of literature aimed at theorizing mediation from a legal perspective. This article argues that the legal anthropology literature on disputes and dispute settlement offers useful insights for understanding mediation from a ‘legal research’ point of view. This is because a lot of current common knowledge on mediation has its roots in a legal anthropological understanding. The argument that is set forth in this article is that the most important lesson that can be learned is that mediation should not be seen in isolation, but as part of a social process.