Mihaela Mihai – Complicity, Hope and the Imagination

Source: Hartwig HKD on Flickr

For this week’s seminar, Mihaela Mihai presented a paper on complicity, hope, and imagination in the context of systemic political repression. Part of her greyzone project researching the potential of art to illustrate the contribution bystanders, collaborators, and beneficiaries make to political violence and widespread injustice, this paper explores the complex temporal dimension to navigating the social world. Its effects on how hope, resistance, and solidarity are perceived and structured. To achieve this goal, Mihaela initially puts forward a critical review of existing complicity literature, in its dominant moral and legal framework insufficiently attentive to humans’ positionality, e.g. how action is part of enduring social processes. This raises serious doubts about its ability to capture the relationship between complicit and resistant action in the messy context of the greyzone as further clarified using the example of Vichy France. In moving beyond the paradigm, her paper offers an analysis of agency and subjectification that helps broaden our understanding of the context of complicity without denying its connection to questions of blame and responsibility.

The lively discussion revealed numerous interesting points around the difficult topic of complicity, hope and imagination. Initially, questions centred on the critical purchase of the paper for legal practice. Whether the criticisms against the dominant legal and moral philosophical conception of complicity targets the mechanisms of transitional justice more generally. If and how the emergence of a critical framework can help substantiate and further the transitional process alongside the legal institutions. Secondly, discussion drew attention to alternative sources to recuperate a more nuanced conception of complicity, responsibility, blame, and guilt than found in the addressed literature, for example on climate change ethics. Lastly, as further avenues of investigation, colleagues drew attention to other related influences on complicity, for example despair.

Written by Gisli Vogler