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Public acknowledgement of responsibility and apology for past policy decisions and actions about strategies of reproduction, adoption and kinship are often controversial, and raise issues for anthropologists concerning law, human rights, activism, and memory.
It has been suggested that we live now in an Age of Apology (Mookherjee et al 2009) which has ethical, social and political dimensions. Citing examples such as the Australian government's apology to the 'stolen generations', the indigenous children forcibly removed from their families as part of the policy of assimilation, the authors highlight 'the ethical pitfalls of seeking an apology, or not uttering it' and the varied understandings of apology and forgiveness across different social groups within the same state.Yet before apology there has to be acceptance of responsibility, and this is often controversial, with claims that today's citizens cannot be responsible for the actions of earlier generations, even if with hindsight and the passage of time it is acknowledged that those actions were wrong. Further, saying sorry in today's risk-averse environment can be seen as paving the way to demands for compensation and recourse to legal proceedings.This panel seeks to explore, based on ethnographic research, how different societies are dealing with retrospective regrets and claims for apologies. What kind of controversies or positive impacts result for those involved and for wider society? Are there rituals of revenge, celebration, forgiveness or reconciliation involved? How do anthropologists study and analyse the counterclaims and ambivalences inherent in saying sorry for past policies and actions? Are we able to remain neutral, and should we be so?