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Summer 2012, 42:4, pages 307-329

Apology as Metanoic Performance:  Punitive Rhetoric and Public Speech

Abstract:  Scholars across the disciplines find much dysfunction in public apologies because they assume that these statements pursue the reconciliatory end of forgiveness. In contrast, this essay argues that public apologies do not enable forgiveness, but rather operate as ritualistic public punishment and humiliation in order to enforce certain ethical standards for public speech. These punishments are achieved by coercing offenders to offer apologies that embody metanoia, a rhetorical and religious concept that denotes a sudden change of heart or personal conversion. Through a rhetorical analysis of the performance of metanoia in public apologies from Don Imus, Michael Richards, and Mel Gibson, this essay demonstrates the punitive function of apologetic discourse and examines its ethical implications.

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