Apologies as ‘shame management’: the politics of remorse in the aftermath of historical institutional abuse

Anne-Marie McAlinden*

*Corresponding author for this work

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This article examines the role of apology as a vehicle for shame management in the aftermath of historical institutional abuse (HIA). It draws on extensive fieldwork in Ireland, North and South, including: archival research on public apologies, focus groups with members of the public and with victims, and semi-structured interviews with key stakeholders. It focuses on the complexities of apology in managing ‘shame’ and ‘self-blame’ for those constituencies affected by HIA – survivors, apologisers, institutions and wider society. Drawing on the notions of ‘shame’ and ‘shame management’, it proposes an interdependent model in order to better understand the function and meaning of apology in such contexts. In addressing the multi-layered relational dimensions of shame surrounding HIA, apology is presented as a potential means of invoking: (a) truth for victims; (b) accountability of offenders; (c) leadership of institutions; and (d) the re-imagination of national identity. The article concludes by examining the additional performative aspects of shaming and the emotional expression of remorse in establishing proximity to historical wrongdoing.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)137-158
Number of pages22
JournalLegal Studies
Issue number1
Early online date01 Jul 2021
Publication statusPublished - 11 Mar 2022


  • Apology
  • Institutional Abuse
  • Shame
  • Self-blame
  • Remorse
  • Performance
  • Emotion


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