Seminar: Do apologies by perpetrators to victims matter? – Dealing with injustices by Japan in Korea

By Professor Roman David, Lingnan University

Tue 21 Nov 2017
1:00pm - 2:15pm


Room 929, 9/F, The Jockey Club Tower, Centennial Campus

Legacies of wars, human rights violations and other injustices complicate relations among various groups and nations around the world. Apologies are frequently demanded, and sometimes given, to smooth the process of dealing with these injustices. However, many of these injustices are historical in their nature; their main protagonists may no longer be alive. One source of controversies surrounding apologies thus concern their actors: Does it matter who apologizes? Does it matter who is the addressee of the apology? Answers to these questions depends on whether (or the extent to which) historical injustices acquire collective nature. If they do, dealing with historical injustices requires (not only) dealing with injustices per se but (also) dealing with the collective memory of these injustices. This paper focuses on one aspect of the problem: It examines whether apologies for historical injustices by direct perpetrators to direct victims matter. Korea has been selected as an optimal research site to examine the problem.

The country has unresolved disputes with Japan resulting from the colonization of the Korean peninsula. Sadly, not many Comfort Women – the victims of sexual slavery by the Japan’s Imperial Army – remain alive. To examine the role of apologies by direct perpetrators to direct victims, I conducted a survey experiment based on 2x2x2 design. The results show a major effect of apology; and a marginal effect of the actors of apology. This suggests that the collective memory of injustices needs to be taken into account in resolution of these injustices.

Roman David is professor in the Department of Sociology and Social Policy at Lingnan University in Hong Kong. Previously, he held various positions at Oxford, Wits, Yale, Newcastle, and Harvard. He works in the area of political sociology, focusing on historical justice and collective memory. He is the author of Justice without Reconciliation (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2018), which proposes a transformative theory of justice; and a co-author (with Ian Holliday) of Liberalism and Democracy in Myanmar (Oxford University Press, 2018), which proposes the concept of limited liberalism. His book Lustration and Transitional Justice (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2011), which conceptualizes exclusive, inclusive and reconciliatory personnel systems, won the Concept Analysis Award of IPSA in 2012.

His articles appeared in the American Journal of Sociology, Journal of Conflict Resolution, Law & Social Inquiry, Political Psychology and other indexed journals. This talk is part of his GRF project on Historical Justice and Reconciliation in Korea.

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