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VIDEO DOI: https://doi.org/10.48448/w194-x503


AAA Annual Meeting 2021

November 18, 2021

Baltimore, United States

Complicities: Ethics and Politics at the Edges of Responsibility


social justice



Scholars across political anthropology have engaged the concept of responsibility as a local and analytical concept that stitches together legal and moral systems (Cooper 2018; Dave 2014; Davis 2012; Garcia 2014; Jain 2006; Kelly 2011; Lambek 2010; Nelson 2009; Trinka and Trundle 2014; Wright 2018). Much of this work focuses on responsibility as a form of liberal governance and ideology; a demarcated set of individualised causal relations through which the potentiality of justice under liberal law emanates. Ethnographic work has also shown the vast complexities of negotiations around the meaning of responsibility in different contexts. But what happens to our understanding of responsibility when we think through notions of complicity: a sense of our mutual involvement with others in the perpetration of harm? This panel asks what forms of ethical relation might overlap and depart from an analytical and empirical focus on responsibility. It offers a consideration of complicity as an ethical, social and political relation that can run through, across or adjacent to claims of responsibility. We ask what ethical imperatives and relationships are brought into view when we foreground complicities across different scales? What are the limits of a concept like complicity? And how might turning to complicity help us to make better sense of the everyday negotiation of ethics and politics across ethnographic sites? Participants on this roundtable pose the above questions across ethnographic sites to develop a comparative perspective. Seema Golestaneh offers the case of Islamic mystics’ insistence that they are a completely apolitical entity within Iran to consider how claims to the apolitical can complicate notions of complicity. In analyzing the labor and work of people with profound disabilities participating in Christian institutions within contemporary Uganda as the basis for projects of person-making, Tyler Zoanni meditates on the uncomfortable position of the complicity of his analysis with a politics and ethics of disability that is patently repugnant before the gaze of liberal disability projects. Tobias Kelly considers British pacifists’ rendering of complicity as moral deficit during the Second World War as a provocation to think through the ethics of mutual entanglement and mutual responsibility. Working through the ethical quandaries of staff and clients in Californian mental health courts, Jessica Cooper wonders whether a discourse of complicity might avail a vantage of ethics less tethered to liberalism than that of responsibility. Lori Allen develops distinctions between complicity in the sense of being an ethical accomplice to those who are oppressed and complicity in the service of status-quo power in relation to scholarship on Palestine and the censorious International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism. As discussant, Angela Garcia will lead a conversation illuminating the synergies and tensions between participants’ perspectives, bringing the roundtable towards a broader, empirically-minded engagement with complicity.


Transcript English (automatic)

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