Mea Culpa: A Sociology of Apology and Reconciliation

Mea Culpa: A Sociology of Apology and Reconciliation

Mea Culpa: A Sociology of Apology and Reconciliation

Mea Culpa: A Sociology of Apology and Reconciliation

Synopsis

Drawing upon the insights of several disciplines, this work focuses on the structural and experiential dynamics of interpersonal and collective apologetic discourse as means of tempering antagonisms and resolving conflicts in contemporary Western society.

Excerpt

In this work I have tried to shed light on a dimension of social life that is at once commonplace and familiar, and a potentially important cultural resource for tempering antagonisms and resolving conflicts. Specifically, I am concerned with situations in which we (individually or collectively) do or say something that violates a moral imperative, harms someone, and endangers our social standing but is not necessarily subject to formal or legal sanctions. In addition, there are no extenuating circumstances or attempts to conceal, deny, or justify what has been done. Hence, we are accountable for violating a social norm.

Assuming that we are not indifferent to the negative consequences of our conduct, one way we can try to rehabilitate ourselves and restore social harmony is to plead mea culpa (through my fault) and apologize to the wronged party. In so doing, we acknowledge the fact of wrongdoing, accept ultimate responsibility, express sincere sorrow and regret, and promise not to repeat the offense. But there is much more to it than this. As I shall try and show, the production of a satisfactory apology is a delicate and precarious transaction. It cannot, for example, be reduced to the mere repudiation of one's untoward words or deeds, because this is manifestly impossible, alien . . .

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