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Illuminating the 'Grey Zone': Addressing Complex Complicity in Human Rights Violations

Periodic Reporting for period 4 - GREYZONE (Illuminating the 'Grey Zone': Addressing Complex Complicity in Human Rights Violations)

Reporting period: 2020-03-01 to 2020-08-31

The project explored the ‘grey zones’ of complicity and resistance under complex circumstances of systemic violence. It focused, first, on the roles of collaborators, bystanders and beneficiaries, whose varied forms of participation in injustice have eluded the theory and practice of transitional justice, given the predominance of the victim-perpetrator dichotomy as an analytical lens. Second, it looked into forms of impure resistance – resistance marked by cowardice, betrayal, complicity, ambivalence – that are obscured by the masculinist, voluntarist, absolutist mythologies of heroism that usually dominate many communities’ memoryscapes. We sought to enrich the toolkit of scholars and practitioners by exploring the potential role of literary and cinematic representations of the grey zone of both complicity and resistance in opening up prematurely closed accounts. To this end, we focused on four cases: right-wing authoritarianism plus military occupation in Vichy France, apartheid in South Africa, authoritarian communism in Romania and military dictatorship in Argentina.

The project is eminently interdisciplinary. Working at the frontiers of political science, philosophy, history, law, literature and cinema, we achieved our guiding objectives. Conceptually, we accounted for the many faces on the spectrum of involvement with violence by illuminating the complexities of agency and responsibility against the background of structural injustice. Normatively, we exposed the troubling political implications of the failure to engage with the grey zones of complicity and resistance. Empirically, we analysed how artistic representations problematized complicity and resistance in ways that subverted reductive narratives about shameful and painful histories.

Our research into the three outlined objectives yielded significant results, while also opening new avenues of inquiry. Relying on a multitude of theoretical frameworks, the team members developed a historically attuned and temporally dynamic account of complicity and resistance, acknowledging how individuals’ choices are conditioned, constrained and enabled by their social position within broader structures and relationships of power. We exposed the limits of grand narratives of reconciliation, outlining how their omission of the grey zones of complicity and resistance risks reproducing systemic patterns of violence. We argued for the need to care for a plural space of historical meaning-making, where uncomfortable truths can be voiced and where existing political settlements can be scrutinised. We then examined the role artists could play in caring for this space of meaning-making. Aware of the risk of romanticising art’s political role, we adopted a sociologically and historically informed view of the artworld and distinguished between illuminating and obscuring representations of the grey zone. In conversation with literatures in the philosophy of art, aesthetics and film studies we also considered the specific formal devices and mechanisms through which consumers of artworks could become reflectively attuned and emotionally responsive to more complex visions of the morally and politically thorny pasts. To give concreteness to our theoretical contributions, we then discussed in depth several films and novels from our four case studies.

We disseminated these findings through our website, social media, scholarly publications, international conferences participation, outreach activities, including three thematic film series.
Since the inception of the project, the following milestones have been reached:

I. Recruitment of team members via international searches

II. Website - and Twitter account: @greyzone2017

IV. Events - we delivered all projected events: two film series, two workshops, one summer school and one international conference; several extra events (a third film series, several panels, several seminars) were also organised

V. Conference Participations: The members of the research team participated in key international conferences disseminating Greyzone’s findings.

VI. Publications – see publication domain; we achieved above and beyond what was promised in the project proposal.

VII. PhD Thesis – successfully defended 2019
We have made significant progress on all three objectives outlined in our proposal:
a) Conceptual objective: Relying on a variety of social theoretical and philosophical literatures, we outlined a structural account of complicity which allowed us to investigate the mechanisms through which individuals navigate the ambiguous field of moral responsibility. Building on the work of Margaret Archer, Pierre Bourdieu, Simone de Beauvoir, Gilles Deleuze, critical race theory and feminist theory, we remain attuned to the social determinants of behaviour. We proposed a complex theory that accounts for individual agency (dispositions, embodiment, action, reflexivity, and judgement) while remaining aware of its situatedness within structures that simultaneously make it possible, constrain it and normalise it. We also investigated the grey zone of complicity within resistance movements and proposed the concept of the ‘impure hero’. Methodologically, our structural account rejects the methodological individualism that dominates the existing theoretical literature in legal and political philosophy.

b) Normative objective. The refusal of national mythologies that obscure complicity is defended normatively and politically as essential to the health of the democratic space of meaning-making. Many of the artists we analysed refused the official story. Relying on feminist thought, we theorise this refusal as a form of care for a plural space of meaning, where multiple, competing narratives about the past can be formulated, discussed and challenged. We see such a plurality as essential for the flourishing of democratic debate about the past and the future of the political community. Artistic interventions about widespread complicity can unmask uncomfortable truths and open important conversations about violence-genic forms of relationality and social imaginaries. Moreover, we defend the value of artistic takes on the grey zones of betrayal within resistance movements. Such a line of inquiry highlights the intricacies of resistant action in contexts of pervasive persecution and systemic violence

c) Art’s political role in 4 case studies. Through an engagement with the philosophy and sociology of art, as well as film studies, feminist literatures and social epistemology, we articulated an account of the mechanisms through which artworks function epistemologically and politically to sabotage national mythologies that obscure complicity and impure resistances. We explored how, through prosthetic, artistic encounters with the past, we – readers and spectators – are seduced into becoming intellectually attuned, emotionally responsive and sensorially aware of what it means to act under circumstances of systemic repression. To counter the risk of romanticising art’s political role while analysing our four case studies, we distinguished between illuminating and obscuring artworks and we stayed sociologically grounded throughout, rejecting a naïve – metaphysical or ahistorical – trust in the power of art per se.
Greyzone site traffic by country 2017-2018
First Intl workshop
PI in roundtable on film The Silence of Others 2018
Final conference Greyzone team presentation
Greyzone Film Series poster
Final conference Keynote
Audience picture second film series
Audience picture first film series
Greyzone summer school 2018 1
Greyzone summer school 2018 2
Greyzone second intl workshop 2018
Site traffic Jan 2015-March 2020
Greyzone second intl workshop pic 2
Event on Arendt responsibility and complicity 2017