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A field test of equivocation theory: Apologies by Canadian churches to indigenous people
Unformatted Document Text:  3 addressed. While there have been field studies consistent with the theory, few have tested it directly, and no studies (whether experimental or not) have applied the same objective method of measurement, instead relying on the researchers’ intuitions about what was equivocal. The present study is the second one (after Prevost & Bavelas, 2000) that addresses these two methodological issues: how to apply equivocation theory to naturally occurring avoidance conflicts and how to develop an objective measure for such data . The data chosen were the six public apologies that four Canadian churches at the national level chose to make to indigenous peoples, either for their role in colonization or for psychological, physical and sexual abuses in the residential schools they administered. These apologies were usually made first at relatively small gatherings at which a church official delivered the formal apology in person to representatives of the indigenous groups. The written text of each was subsequently available on the church’s website and constituted the data used for the present analysis. These websites are given in the Reference section (Anglican, 1993; Catholic, 1991; Oblate, 1991; Presbyterian, 1994; United, 1986; United, 1998). The attention of anyone interested in equivocation might easily be drawn to the topic of apologies, which often appear to say something without really saying it (e.g, “I’m sorry if you feel that way”; “I’m sorry about what happened”). Given the importance of apologies to the victims (e.g., Alter, 1999; Sage, 1998), one must ask why the persons responsible would veer away from making them fully. Strategic avoidance of the directness of a true apology (i.e., equivocation) offers itself as an obvious possibility. The group of apologies chosen for analysis were of great importance to all of those

Authors: Bavelas, Janet.
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addressed. While there have been field studies consistent with the theory, few have
tested it directly, and no studies (whether experimental or not) have applied the same
objective method of measurement, instead relying on the researchers’ intuitions about
what was equivocal. The present study is the second one (after Prevost & Bavelas,
2000) that addresses these two methodological issues: how to apply equivocation
theory to naturally occurring avoidance conflicts and how to develop an objective
measure for such data . The data chosen were the six public apologies that four
Canadian churches at the national level chose to make to indigenous peoples, either for
their role in colonization or for psychological, physical and sexual abuses in the
residential schools they administered. These apologies were usually made first at
relatively small gatherings at which a church official delivered the formal apology in
person to representatives of the indigenous groups. The written text of each was
subsequently available on the church’s website and constituted the data used for the
present analysis. These websites are given in the Reference section (Anglican, 1993;
Catholic, 1991; Oblate, 1991; Presbyterian, 1994; United, 1986; United, 1998).
The attention of anyone interested in equivocation might easily be drawn to the
topic of apologies, which often appear to say something without really saying it (e.g, “I’m
sorry if you feel that way”; “I’m sorry about what happened”). Given the importance of
apologies to the victims (e.g., Alter, 1999; Sage, 1998), one must ask why the persons
responsible would veer away from making them fully. Strategic avoidance of the
directness of a true apology (i.e., equivocation) offers itself as an obvious possibility.
The group of apologies chosen for analysis were of great importance to all of those


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