Colonial apologies and the problem of the transgressor speaking

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Can state apologies help reconciliation between former coloniser and colonised? Much of the literature on political apologies is optimistic regarding their potential to aid reconciliation. Even critical work frequently dispraises particular case studies, while maintaining a normative commitment to apology. Building on a growing postcolonial literature on the subject, this article contributes a more fundamental critique of colonial apology. It argues that its inherent structure entails a format that accords the politician of the transgressor state an elevated speaking position. This results in the ritual being predisposed to problematic representations of the colonised and sanitised narratives of the transgression. The argument is situated within Edward Said’s considerations on representation in the colonial process.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)399-417
Number of pages19
JournalThird World Quarterly
Issue number3
Early online date29 Nov 2017
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2018

Bibliographical note

I would like to thank Gearoid Millar and the anonymous referees for their comments on this article.


  • political apologies
  • voice
  • colonialism
  • Comfort Women
  • narrative


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