Towards a less reductive ethos of reality: judging responsibility-for-complicity
Item statusRestricted Access
Embargo end date25/11/2020
One of the main challenges facing contemporary political theory is how humans should respond to their complicity in systemic injustice and political oppression, so as to facilitate positive social transformation. The problem of judging responsibility for complicity lies at the heart of public and scholarly debates about global poverty, transitional justice, racism, (neo-)colonialism, and climate change. This thesis builds on the works of Hannah Arendt and Margaret Archer to explore the relationship between complicity, judgement, and a person’s stance towards reality – what I term an ‘ethos of reality’. I argue that the suitability of judgements on complicity depends not only on our receptivity to suffering and our ability to identify marginal contributions to injustice. Instead, judgements need to be informed by an ethos that affirms a multi-layered, shared reality and seeks to engender a more hospitable world-in-common, as the prism through which to evaluate complicity and responsibility. The thesis highlights the kind of focus on structure, agency, and plurality that is needed to develop this less reductive ethos of reality. The thesis proceeds as follows. Chapter 1 introduces key themes in Hannah Arendt’s thought. I relate Arendt’s theory of reflective judgement to the problem she faced – totalitarianism and a break in tradition – and discuss her response through pluralist politics as the locus of a new ethic of reality. Chapter 2 analyses the debate around Hannah Arendt’s account of judgement. This secondary literature enriches our understanding of judgement and points to a neglected dimension of judgement: its embeddedness in the interplay of structures and agency. Chapter 3 picks up where this literature leaves off. I discuss Margaret Archer’s case for theorising causally distinct, but temporally interlinked, powers of agency and structure. Chapter 4 articulates the hybridisation of Arendt’s and Archer’s work and engages critically with existing conceptualisations of complicity. I argue that the dominant moral and legal framework and its critical alternatives tend to undertheorize structure-agency and risk side-stepping the challenges of judging responsibility. Finally, Chapter 5 illustrates what a judgement that is informed by a less reductive ethos of reality could look like instead. I engage with Nobel laureate Herta Müller’s autofiction, written in response to life under the Romanian communist dictatorship. Müller shows how attentiveness to structure, agency, and plurality can help us judge responsibility for complicity and engender resistance to injustice and oppression.