Understanding complicity: Memory, hope and the imagination

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Abstract / Description of output

This paper addresses the thorny issue of complicity with wrongdoing under conditions of systemic political violence, such as authoritarianism, totalitarianism or military occupation. The challenge of dealing with collaborators – those who colluded with the apparatus of repression or who benefitted from its existence – is central to subsequent processes of justice and memory-making. This paper proposes several arguments. Firstly, it claims we need to think about complicity and resistance not dichotomically, but as a continuum of locations individuals can occupy. Secondly, these locations are influenced by the agents’ positionality within the social world, each agent being situated at the intersection of several axes of distinction: class, gender, racialisation, and religion, among others. Thirdly, to understand complicity we also need to draw a connection between individual’s experience of time and their actions: temporality is experienced from within a social position, through the interplay between memory, imagination and hope. Positionality thus affects one’s memories and self-understanding, the scope of one’s imagination, as well as the type and intensity of one’s hopes. Therefore, individuals’ capacity to build on the past to imagine a future, to invest emotionally in the future and act accordingly are interrelated aspects of their experience, which will influence how they navigate the muddy waters of systemic wrongdoing, more or less complicitly. To give concreteness to these three theoretical arguments, the paper discusses several forms of complicity with violence during the Vichy Regime in France.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)504-522
JournalCritical Review of International Social and Political Philosophy
Issue number5
Early online date14 Jan 2019
Publication statusPublished - 29 Jul 2019

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • complicity
  • imagination
  • memory
  • hope
  • Vichy France


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