On the Uses and Abuses of Political Apologies Workshop

Thursday 6 June 2013, 9.00AM to 5.00 pm

The last decades have witnessed a sharp rise in the number of public apologies. States, but also churches, the medical profession, and academic institutions have been apologising to those they have wronged in the past. Crimes such as enslavement, territorial displacement, violations of earlier treaties, wartime casualties, ethnic discrimination, and other types of human rights abuses make the object of official expressions of regret. This workshop consists of two parts. First, it includes papers that theoretically reflect on the nature of the phenomenon at stake. Two questions guide this enterprise: “What is an apology?” and “What functions do apologies serve within democratic societies?” Second, we test the validity of these theoretical reflections through encounters with real practices of state apologies. Through an interdisciplinary engagement this workshop will help us get a better grasp of the context-dependent conditions for a successful apology. By moving back and forth between theory and practice, we hope to develop a holistic account of why apologies are, and should be, on the agenda of democratic societies today.

List of participants:

Lynne Tirrell, Philosophy, University of Massachusetts, Boston

John O’Neill, Political Economy Institute, University of Manchester

Michael Cunningham, Politics, University of Wolverhampton

Paul Gready, Centre for Applied Human Rights, University of York

Lars Waldorf, Centre for Applied Human Rights, University of York

Sharon Macdonald, Sociology, University of York

Matthew Festenstein, Politics, University of York

Martin O’Neill, Politics, University of York

Audra Mitchell, Politics, University of York

Mihaela Mihai, Politics, University of York



9:00 – 11:00 Lynne Tirrell, “Political Apology and Recognition Harms.” Comments by Paul Gready and  Matthew Festenstein
11:00 – 11:15   Coffee break
11:15 – 13:15 John O’Neill, “The Price of an Apology.” Comments by Martin O’Neill and Audra Mitchell
13:15 – 14:15   Lunch (provided)
14:15 – 17:00 Book roundtable: Michael Cunningham, The Age of Apology (forthcoming Manchester University Press, 2013)



  1. Definitional issues. Comments by Sharon Macdonald
  2. Reasons for emergence. Comments by Sharon Macdonald
  3. Principal issues - time, responsibility, indeterminacy, sincerity.  Comments by Mihaela Mihai
  4. Ideological location of apology. Comments by Mihaela Mihai
  5. ‘Popular’ attitudes to apology. Comments by Lars Waldorf
  6. Apologies - advantages/disadvantages. Comments by Lars Waldorf


Location: Kings Manor, room K/159, University of York

Admission: Please register at mihaela.mihai@york.ac.uk

Email: mihaela.mihai@york.ac.uk