1 year ago
The Greyzone Summer School and Second International Workshop June 2018
A brief report on the Greyzone Summer School and second International Workshop on the Dilemmas of Complicity, Resistance and Solidarity in the Grey Zone, held at the University of Edinburgh in June 2018
In June 2018, our team hosted an interdisciplinary Summer School on “Navigating the Grey Zone: Complicity, Resistance and Solidarity,” and the International Workshop on “Politics in the Grey Zone: Violence, Complicity and Resistance.” The Summer School explored the complexities of complicity in systemic violence, and probed the ethical and political value of art in shedding light on the ambiguous reality of political conflict. Bringing together perspectives from political theory, history, philosophy and aesthetics, it involved engaging morning lectures by several international experts, followed by exciting presentations from participants in the afternoon. The lively intellectual conversation continued during the Workshop, which focused on art’s capacity to shed light on the difficulties of assuming responsibility for systemic oppression and unearth the however limited possibilities for resistance and solidarity. The Summer School and Workshop were generously supported by the European Research Council and the Global Justice Academy at the University of Edinburgh.
The Summer School lectures and presentations were divided into three parts, featuring conceptual, artistic and historical perspectives. Bronwyn Leebaw kick-started the theoretical discussion on the epistemological and political relevance of the grey zone by foregrounding it as a space for attentive and critical assessment of the systemic logics of violence. But how are we to account for the intricate web of systemic factors that constrain human agency and blur the sense of individual responsibility for injustice? Taking this dilemma as a starting point, Danielle Celermajer proposed that we eschew the choice between agency and structure, and turn attention to changing the world within which oppressive practices occur and become normalized. The theoretical dilemmas of approaching the grey realities of political violence were further explored in participants’ presentations, which left us with much food for thought. What is the role of intellectuals in exposing the ambiguities of systemic complicity? How are we to think the responsibility of the oppressed and their ability to bring to consciousness the pernicious effects of the structural conditions that keep them captive? And how are we best to confront the complicities of the privileged members of society?
In her lecture, Vikki Bell took up the difficulty of representing the grey zones of complicity by reflecting on the political value of art in processes of transition, with a focus on Argentina. She framed artistic engagement as a form of ethical receptivity that cannot be reduced to empathy, but must remain aware of its limits to ever truly penetrate the situation of another. Margaret Atack in turn illuminated the ambiguous processes of narrative production and reception through a compelling discussion of Mr Klein, a 1976 film by Joseph Losey. In conversation with the participants, she traced how the film intervened in the contested space of memory politics in France, raising the issue of French complicity in Nazi atrocities, questioning the heroic myths of resistance and interrogating the value of historical truth in representing the past. The students’ papers again mirrored the excellent lectures, exploring the political potentials – and limits – of different artistic forms, from comedy and melodrama to visual art and photography.
Cynthia Milton engaged the complexities of reckoning with the grey zones of violence from a historical perspective, disclosing the ambivalent role of artistic productions the memory battles in Latin America. While works of art by the communities traumatized by past violence certainly exposed the limits of official narratives of transition and supported the victims' continued struggle for justice, the artistic medium and the discourse of victimhood was appropriated by the perpetrators to advance their political agenda. The potentially troubling ethical implications of the grey zone discourse also formed the backdrop of Paul Gready’s lecture. Does the insistence on complexities of complicity not preclude judgement and accountability? With a particular focus on the case of apartheid in South Africa and its regime of state-sanctioned not-knowing, Paul exposed the need to constantly ask ourselves what stories we want to tell, and what political possibilities they open or constrain. The participants, too, were vigilant to confront the power dynamics underpinning artistic representations of the grey zone: the papers included an inquiry into the ambivalences of the cinematic representations of the past in Argentina, and an exploration of the gendered dimension of reckoning with women collaborators in France.
The atmosphere of friendly and stimulating conversations similarly marked the Grey Zone Workshop, which included paper presentations by Bronwyn Leebaw, Margaret Atack, Bogdan Popa, Fiona Mackintosh, Barbara Boswell, Danielle Celermajer and Maša Mrovlje. The workshop started with a session on Greyzone’s findings, introduced by the PI and the team members. Participants then addressed issues as diverse as the value of sarcasm and derision in challenging simplistic notions of guilt and innocence; the capacity of novels to expose the silenced experiences of rape committed against women guerrillas within the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa; the importance and limitations of narrative affect in resisting societal complicity in torture; the potential of Argentine fiction in confronting the complicity of wilful ignorance; the political promise of the ex-resisters’ disappointment in tackling the grey zones of beginning anew after systemic violence; the role of retro cinema in exposing the grey zones of sexual desire and ideological commitment; and the value of haunting testimonies as a distinctive memory practice aimed at confronting the internalization and displacement of shame that prevents people from assuming responsibility for systematic forms of atrocity. This engaging dialogue forged valuable ties for future academic cooperation, including plans for a special issue in a high-profile journal.
We thank all presenters for an amazing four days of discussion!