Unsettling Apologies

Book Project: Making Sense of Sorry: Thinking through Apology in Contemporary South Africa

This book project, initiated by editors Dee Smythe and Melanie Judge, focused on the ‘apology’ as a non-punitive and meaningful social encounter, and addresses the following questions: What is the meaning and work of an apology? And, what are the generative and limiting dimensions of apologies in the context of contemporary debates on justice, decolonisation and feminist struggle in post-apartheid South Africa? Taking an interdisciplinary approach, the book offers an intellectual treatment of the topic from a range of disciplinary perspectives and genres.
Broad themes include:

  1. Political apologies and non-apologies: for state-sponsored harm in the past, the present (or the present/past); for personal wrong-doing by political actors; and for individual perpetrators to victims of state-sanctioned harm;
  2. Apologies in law and courts: as a remedy (e.g., in equality courts and vernacular courts), as reducing culpability (and liability) not only in criminal courts, but in customary law, delict, commercial, environmental law and other areas; and in remorse and mitigation of sentence;
  3. The production and instantiation of particular cultural forms and functions of identity through apology and in associated social, political and legal practices;
  4. The psychology of apology: affect; shame and guilt; and the role of memory;
  5. The function of apology in (re)constituting social and economic relations: through reparation and compensation; and tropes of reconciliation and forgiveness.

This project, which commenced in late 2019, comprises 15 chapters, and has contributions from: Siphokazi Jonas, Yasmin Sooka, Sindiso Mnisi Weeks, Nurina Ally, Kerry Williams, Shireen Hassim, Nkululeko Nkomo, Peace Kiguwa, Christi van der Westhuizen, Diane Jefthas, Leila Khan, Dee Smythe, Omowamiwa Kolawole, Tracey Davies, Thuto Thipe, Jaco Barnard-Naudé, and Heinz Klug . Following a rigorous peer-review process, the edited volume, entitled: “Unsettling Apologies: Critical Writings on Apology from South Africa”, was published by Bristol University Press in late 2022.