PhD Degree for Sanderijn Cels

22 04 2015

Yesterday, my brilliant PhD candidate Sanderijn Cels succesfully defended her thesis about public apologies. The title of her thesis is ‘ Why say sorry. On the ambiguity of public apologies’ and in it Sanderijn develops a conceptual model to analyse public apologies. She examined five cases in detail, starting with the British apology to the Guildford Four, and then moving to the 2008 Canadian apology to  former students of Indian residential schools; the 2012 Belgian apology for the collaboration of government institutions with the Nazi command during the Second World War; the 2010 British apology for its 1920 to 1960 policy to send poor children to Australia, often without consent of the parents; and the 2011 Dutch apology for the mass execution of men and boys in Balongsari, Indonesia in 1947. As Sanderijn shows in detail, existing apology theories and research mainly focus on the spoken words between individual victims and offenders. With public apologies many more factors play a role, such as the staged performance, the multitude of other actors involved, especially news media. As a result, the meaning of a public apology can become much more contested and ambiguous. Thus, on the basis of the four cases, Sanderijn develops a theoretical approach that ” emphasizes dramaturgy, rather than limiting analysis to speech alone. It approaches the meanings of public apology not just in terms of morality, but also within a broader set of meanings. It defines these not just in reference to the victim-offender relationship, but also takes into consideration other agents in various capacities throughout society who assign meanings to the act. And it does not address these agents as mere “interpreters,” but as potential “meaning makers” who can help make the act more significant. Finally, it does not advance consensus as a necessary condition for the apology to be “successful” or “effective”—to use the phrasing of theorists of collective apology, but instead offers a differentiated approach to understanding what endorsements and criticisms may mean across realms“. (p. 275).

Examiners Professor Barbara Oomen of Roosevelt Academy in Middelburg and dr. James Stanyer of Loughborough University were impressed with the thesis and praised it for its theoretical riguour and its attention for the details of the cases and the wrongdoings. Professor Oomen saw strong linkages and contribution to theories of international justice, while Dr. Stanyer lauded its comparative approach.

I was proud that Sanderijn sought me as a supervisor; her research question was her own, as was her comparative approach. Her reading, thinking and writing never needed much direction or improvement, so I had a relatively easy ride and learned quite a lot. The only thing I regretted is that the English PhD-degree does not have a category “cum laude”. Sanderijn’s work would have thoroughly deserved it.





One response

14 09 2015
Sanderijn Cels

Thank you for your lovely report, prof Van Zoonen! It was an honour and pleasure working with you!

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