York Professor Emeritus Richard Weisman explores the power of remorse

Crop of the cover of Richard Weisman book for YFile homepage
York Professor Emeritus Richard Weisman
York Professor Emeritus Richard Weisman

In his new book, Showing Remorse: Law and the Social Control of Emotion (2014), published by Ashgate as part of the Canada Series: Law, Justice and Power, York University Professor Emeritus of Social Science Richard Weisman explores the power of remorse.

Whether or not wrongdoers show remorse and how they show remorse are matters that attract great interest both in law and in popular culture. In capital trials in the United States, it can be a question of life or death whether a jury believes that a wrongdoer showed remorse. And in wrongdoings that capture the popular imagination, public attention focuses not only on the act but on whether the perpetrator feels remorse for what they did. But who decides when remorse should be shown or not shown and whether it is genuine or not genuine?

Cover of Richard Weisman's new book
Cover of Richard Weisman’s new book

In contrast to previous academic studies on the subject, the primary focus of Weisman’s work is not on whether the wrongdoer meets these expectations over how and when remorse should be shown but on how the community reacts when these expectations are met or not met.

Using examples drawn from Canada, the United States, and South Africa, Weisman demonstrates that the showing of remorse is a site of negotiation and contention between groups who differ about when it is to be expressed and how it is to be expressed. Weisman’s book illustrates these points by looking at cases about which there was conflict over whether the wrongdoer should show remorse or whether the feelings that were shown were sincere. Building on the earlier analysis, Weisman shows that the process of deciding when and how remorse should be expressed contributes to the moral ordering of society as a whole.

This book is an essential resource for individuals in the fields of sociology, law, law and society and criminology.

Weisman is Professor Emeritus, Department of Social Science, Law and Society Program, Faculty of Liberal Arts and Professional Studies, and Department of Sociology, Glendon College at York University. His current research analyzes the social processes by which remorsefulness and remorselessness are claimed by self and attributed by other. Law is one important site for this process in that considerations of remorse enter into judgments about parole, sentencing, dangerous offender status in Canada and capital punishment in the United States.

The book is available from Ashgate.