Monash University
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After the Apology: responsive narratives and the 2008 Apology to Australia's Stolen Generations

posted on 2016-11-29, 03:54 authored by Maher, Katherine Jane
Apology is a special form of both politics and narrative. As a political event, the 2008 Australian Parliament’s Apology to the Stolen Generations (the Apology) amply demonstrated the complexities underlying both the virtue and potential of narrative politics. The Apology recognised ongoing repercussive damages when it presented a history of Australia’s settlement that clearly acknowledged mistreatment of Indigenous peoples as a direct effect of colonisation. The associated redress or repair, however, has failed to materialise in the Apology’s aftermath. This thesis focuses on apology- responsive narratives in order to understand this failure, and as new ground for the study of political apology. My research investigates the importance of response in actualising apology, particularly political apology. I explore the social justice value of Apology-responsive narratives with an interpretive research approach framed by political theory on apology and collective action. Theoretically, the justice value of apology is understood to hinge on its ability to acknowledge historical injustices and to herald some kind of socio-political redress. Many theorists and philosophers imbue apology with transformational qualities of the kind that might interrupt political relations to the benefit of victims, and by extension, their society. Others, however, question the political capacity of apology: for example by looking critically to more contextually pragmatic actions, or even asserting apology’s irrelevance, claiming that group relationships will progress towards peace or not, with or without apology (see Jennifer Lind). My thesis recognises that while the impacts and virtues of political apology are contested, it nevertheless has great potential to engage moral and critical judgement. This engagement comes about because publics are familiar with the interpersonal apology form, its virtues and its flaws. The existing theory and philosophy on apology reflects its slippery potential. However, this thesis ultimately argues that intolerance for the complexity of pluralism and diversity (such as that seen in Apology-responsive narratives) destabilises or undermines apology’s ideals. These findings demonstrate a need to look at political apology as inter-subjective, and – as the respondents have done – as an invitation to dialogue rather than as a singular event. In this thesis, I argue that the repair of political membership, if it occurs at all, first occurs in dialogue. Responsive narratives offer points of intersection for ethics and politics. They contribute to our construction and re-construction of society, of collectives and of us; expressing more ideal conditions for political life, they guide a practical ethics.


Principal supervisor

Michael Ure

Additional supervisor 1

Mark Davis

Year of Award


Department, School or Centre

School of Social Sciences (Monash Australia)


Doctor of Philosophy

Degree Type


Campus location



Faculty of Arts