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What Does Complicity Means?

What Does Complicity Means?

Complicity is a complex and multifaceted concept that has deep implications in various aspects of life. It refers to the state of being involved or participating in a wrongful act or behavior, either actively or passively. At its core, complicity involves a moral, ethical, or legal responsibility for the consequences of one’s actions or inactions.

Understanding the meaning of complicity requires a thoughtful examination of its different dimensions. It raises questions about personal accountability, the dynamics of power and influence, and the role of individuals within larger systems and institutions. By delving into these complexities, we can gain a deeper understanding of the implications of complicity and how it shapes our society.

One crucial aspect of complicity is the distinction between active and passive complicity. Active complicity involves actively participating in or aiding the wrongful act, while passive complicity refers to silently condoning or enabling the act to occur without taking direct action. Both forms of complicity can have significant consequences and require careful consideration.

Furthermore, complicity is not limited to individuals. It can also be applied to organizations, governments, and other collective entities. Understanding the role of collective complicity is essential for comprehending how systems and institutions perpetuate harmful practices and how they can be changed or dismantled.

“To ignore evil is to become an accomplice to it.” – Martin Luther King Jr.

Exploring the meaning of complicity is a critical step towards fostering a more just and accountable society. By understanding the nuances of complicity, we can take responsibility for our actions and challenge systems of oppression and injustice, working towards a more equitable future for all.

An Overview of Complicity

Complicity refers to the involvement or participation in a wrongful or illegal act. It encompasses the actions, behaviors, or choices that contribute to the commission of a harmful act or the perpetuation of an unjust system. Understanding the concept of complicity is crucial in addressing issues of responsibility, accountability, and ethical decision-making.

Types of Complicity

Complicity can take various forms, each with its own set of implications. Some common types of complicity include:

  • Active complicity: This occurs when an individual actively participates in a wrongful act, either by directly carrying out the act or providing assistance or support to the main perpetrator.
  • Passive complicity: Passive complicity involves individuals who indirectly contribute to the wrongful act by failing to take action or speak out against it, despite being aware of the wrongdoing.
  • Material complicity: Material complicity occurs when individuals provide the necessary resources, such as money, tools, or information, that enable the commission of a wrongful act.
  • Intellectual complicity: Intellectual complicity refers to individuals who develop or propagate ideologies, theories, or arguments that justify or normalize the wrongful act, indirectly contributing to its perpetuation.

Factors Influencing Complicity

Several factors can influence an individual’s complicity in a harmful act:

  1. Power dynamics: The power imbalance between individuals or groups can pressure individuals to engage in or support wrongful acts in order to maintain their status or protect their interests.
  2. Indirect influence: Media, societal norms, and shared values can indirectly influence an individual’s complicity by shaping their beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors.
  3. Moral and ethical considerations: Personal belief systems, moral frameworks, and ethical codes play a significant role in determining an individual’s level of complicity. These considerations can either motivate individuals to actively resist complicity or rationalize their involvement.

Addressing Complicity

Addressing complicity requires a comprehensive approach that includes:

  • Recognizing complicity: Individuals need to acknowledge their role in contributing to wrongful acts and critically examine their actions, beliefs, and choices.
  • Building awareness: Increasing awareness about the consequences of complicity is crucial in promoting responsible decision-making and ethical behavior.
  • Encouraging accountability: Holding individuals accountable for their complicity can help deter future involvement in wrongful acts and create a culture of responsibility.
  • Promoting ethical decision-making: Providing education, resources, and support for ethical decision-making can empower individuals to resist complicity and promote justice.



Complicity is a complex and multifaceted concept that requires careful consideration. Understanding the different forms of complicity and the factors that influence it is essential in fostering a culture of accountability, ethics, and social justice.

The Legal Definition of Complicity

In the legal context, complicity refers to the participation or involvement of an individual in the commission of a crime. It involves aiding, abetting, or assisting another person in the commission of a criminal act. Complicity can be charged as a separate offense or as an additional charge alongside the primary offense.

There are different types of complicity, including:

1. Principal Liability

A person can be held criminally liable as a principal if they actively participate in the commission of a crime. This means that they directly commit the criminal act, such as physically carrying out a robbery or assault.

2. Accomplice Liability

An individual can be held criminally responsible as an accomplice if they assist, facilitate, or encourage the primary offender in the commission of the crime. This can include providing weapons, planning the crime, or acting as a lookout during the offense.

3. Accessory Liability

Accessory liability refers to a person’s involvement after the commission of a crime. An individual can be considered an accessory if they help the primary offender evade arrest, hide evidence, or provide false alibis.

It’s important to note that in order to be liable as a accomplice or accessory, the person must have the intent to aid or facilitate the commission of the crime. Mere presence or knowledge of a crime is not enough to establish complicity.

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In some jurisdictions, there may also be specific statutes that define and outline the elements of complicity and its consequences. These laws vary by jurisdiction, so it’s important to consult the applicable local laws for a comprehensive understanding.

In conclusion, complicity in the legal sense involves an individual’s participation, aid, or encouragement in the commission of a crime. The different forms of complicity can result in separate charges or additional charges alongside the primary offense.

Types of Complicity in various Contexts

1. Criminal Complicity:

Criminal complicity refers to the participation in a criminal act or aiding and abetting someone in committing a crime. It involves knowing involvement or assistance in the commission of a crime, which can be through direct participation or indirect facilitation.

2. Political Complicity:

Political complicity occurs when individuals or groups are involved in activities that support or enable political wrongdoing. This can include supporting corrupt politicians, turning a blind eye to human rights abuses, or actively participating in activities that undermine democratic principles.

3. Corporate Complicity:

Corporate complicity refers to the involvement of businesses or corporations in unethical or illegal activities. This can include actions such as engaging in fraudulent accounting practices, disregarding environmental regulations, or knowingly participating in human rights violations within their supply chains.

4. Social Complicity:

Social complicity refers to the individuals’ or society’s passive or active consent or support for harmful actions or systems. This can include participating in or benefiting from oppressive social structures, remaining silent in the face of injustice, or perpetuating harmful stereotypes and biases.

5. Cultural Complicity:

Cultural complicity refers to the involvement of cultural practices, norms, or beliefs that perpetuate harm or contribute to oppressive systems. This can include traditions or rituals that promote discrimination, cultural appropriation, or the marginalization of certain groups.

6. Moral Complicity:

Moral complicity occurs when individuals or groups fail to take action or speak out against moral wrongdoing. This can be a result of fear, indifference, or participating in systems that compromise ethical principles and values.

7. Humanitarian Complicity:

Humanitarian complicity involves individuals or organizations that fail to provide assistance or intervene in situations where humanitarian support is needed. This can include turning a blind eye to humanitarian crises, failing to provide aid to those in need, or actively contributing to the exacerbation of such situations.

8. Legal Complicity:

Legal complicity refers to the involvement or support of individuals, groups, or institutions in actions that are legally questionable or morally wrong. This can include lawyers defending clients they know to be guilty, judges passing lenient sentences for serious crimes, or lawmakers enacting laws that perpetuate injustice.

Examples of Complicity in Various Contexts
Context Example of Complicity
Criminal Aiding a friend in disposing of evidence after a crime
Political Supporting a corrupt politician’s reelection campaign
Corporate Knowingly using suppliers involved in child labor
Social Benefiting from discriminatory hiring practices
Cultural Appropriating religious symbols without understanding their meaning
Moral Remaining silent when witnessing an act of bullying
Humanitarian Refusing to provide aid to refugees in a crisis situation
Legal Implementing laws that disproportionately target marginalized communities

Examples of Complicity in History and Literature

1. Nazi Germany’s Collaborators

During the reign of Nazi Germany, there were many individuals and groups who were complicit in carrying out the atrocities committed by the regime.

One example of complicity can be seen in the case of the SS officers who actively participated in the Holocaust, aiding in the arrest, transportation, and extermination of millions of Jews. They were fully aware of the nature of their actions and willingly carried them out.

Another example of complicity during this time was the role played by various European collaborators. These local individuals and groups willingly collaborated with the Nazi regime, either by providing information about Jews in their communities or by actively participating in acts of violence against them.

2. Shakespeare’s “Macbeth”

In William Shakespeare’s play “Macbeth,” Lady Macbeth can be seen as an example of complicity. She encourages and aids her husband, Macbeth, in his murderous actions to gain power. While she doesn’t directly commit the acts herself, she is complicit in the crimes by planning and encouraging them.

Another example of complicity in “Macbeth” is the character of Macduff. He initially supports Macbeth but eventually turns against him. However, his initial support can be seen as a form of complicity, as he indirectly enables Macbeth’s actions by not standing up against him from the start.

3. The Stanford Prison Experiment

The Stanford Prison Experiment, conducted in 1971 by psychologist Philip Zimbardo, provides an example of complicity in a controlled research setting. Participants were randomly assigned to either the role of prison guards or prisoners, and the study quickly spiraled out of control, with the guards exhibiting abusive behavior towards the prisoners.

Although Zimbardo himself initially acted as the superintendent of the prison and observed the abusive behavior, he only intervened after six days when confronted by a graduate student. This delayed intervention can be seen as a form of complicity, as Zimbardo allowed the abuses to continue even though he had the power to stop them.

4. Omission in “The Great Gatsby”

In F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel “The Great Gatsby,” there are several instances of complicity through omission. Nick Carraway, the narrator, witnesses various morally questionable actions throughout the story but remains largely passive and does not take a stand against them.

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For example, Nick is aware of Tom Buchanan’s extramarital affair but does not confront him or tell Daisy, Tom’s wife. His silence and inaction can be seen as a form of complicity, as he allows the immoral behavior to continue without intervening.

5. The Milgram Experiment

The Milgram Experiment, conducted in 1961 by psychologist Stanley Milgram, sheds light on complicity in obedience to authority. Participants were instructed to administer electric shocks to another person (who was an actor and not actually being harmed) when they answered questions incorrectly.

Despite hearing the actor’s screams of pain and pleas to stop, many participants continued to administer the shocks simply because an authority figure instructed them to do so. This obedience to authority can be seen as a form of complicity, as the participants willingly participated in causing harm to another person without questioning the implications of their actions.

The Moral Implications of Complicity

Understanding Complicity

Complicity refers to the involvement or participation in wrongful actions or behaviors committed by others. It entails knowingly and willingly supporting, aiding, or abetting such actions, either actively or passively. In essence, complicity implies responsibility for the consequences of one’s actions or omissions.

Moral Responsibility

Complicity raises important moral questions about individual responsibility. When individuals are complicit in wrongdoing, they share in the moral responsibility for the harm caused by these actions. This complicity can occur through direct involvement, such as actively assisting in a criminal act, or through indirect means, such as silently condoning or benefiting from the actions of others.

Understanding the moral implications of complicity requires considering the intentions and motivations behind one’s actions or inactions. While an individual may not directly commit the wrongful act, their complicity contributes to its occurrence and perpetuation. As such, they bear some level of moral guilt or culpability.

Collaboration and Complicity

Complicity can also extend to situations of collaboration, where individuals knowingly work with others engaged in wrongful actions. Collaboration can take many forms, such as providing resources, expertise, or support, which enable or enhance the harm caused by others. In these cases, individuals become complicit by aligning themselves with the goals or values of the wrongdoers.

Being aware of one’s complicity in collaboration brings about another ethical dimension. This highlights the importance of personal integrity and the need to distinguish between right and wrong. Engaging in collaboration with wrongdoers makes one an accomplice, making it crucial to assess the moral boundaries of such alliances.

The Duty to Resist

Understanding the moral implications of complicity also includes recognizing the duty to resist wrongful actions or behaviors. In situations where individuals become aware of ongoing harm or wrongdoing, they have a responsibility to take action to prevent or mitigate these actions. Failure to do so can make them complicit in the perpetuation of the harm.


Complicity carries significant moral implications as it raises questions about individual responsibility, collaboration, and the duty to resist wrongdoing. Acknowledging and understanding one’s complicity is crucial for cultivating a more ethical society, where individuals actively engage in promoting justice and preventing harm.

Complicity in Social and Political Movements

Complicity plays a critical role in social and political movements. It involves individuals or groups who are in some way involved or connected with actions and decisions that contribute to the progress or outcomes of these movements. Understanding complicity is essential for comprehending the dynamics and impact of these movements.

Types of Complicity

To fully understand complicity in social and political movements, it is important to recognize the different types of complicity that can exist:

  • Active Complicity: This type of complicity refers to individuals actively participating and contributing to the actions and decisions of a movement. They may be actively involved in organizing protests, spreading awareness, or making significant contributions to the cause.
  • Passive Complicity: Passive complicity occurs when individuals support a movement or cause but do not actively participate in its actions. They may express their support through financial contributions, sharing information, or providing resources to further the movement’s goals.
  • Implicit Complicity: Implicit complicity involves individuals who may not outwardly express their support or participation in a movement but indirectly contribute to its progress or outcome. For example, individuals who remain silent or turn a blind eye to injustices perpetuated by a movement can be considered implicitly complicit.

The Role of Complicity

Complicity can have significant implications for both social and political movements:

  • Shared Responsibility: Complicity highlights the shared responsibility of individuals within a movement. It emphasizes that everyone connected to a movement has a role to play in its success or failure.
  • Accountability: Recognizing complicity helps hold individuals and groups accountable for their actions or inaction. It encourages reflection and calls for individuals to be aware of how their actions or choices contribute to the larger movement.
  • Power Dynamics: Understanding complicity can shed light on power dynamics within a movement. It reveals who holds influence, who is marginalized, and how power is distributed among individuals and groups.
  • Ethical Considerations: Complicity raises ethical considerations, forcing individuals to question their own values and beliefs. It encourages critical thinking and introspection to ensure that actions align with personal principles and moral standards.
  • Organizational Strategies: Recognizing the various forms of complicity can help organizations and movements develop effective strategies. This includes addressing issues of inclusivity, fostering accountability, and promoting active participation among supporters.
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Complicity is a complex and multi-faceted concept that plays a crucial role in social and political movements. Understanding the different types of complicity and its implications is essential for individuals, organizations, and societies working towards positive change. By recognizing and addressing complicity, we can strive for a more equitable and just world.

Dealing with Complicity: Personal and Collective Responsibility

Personal Responsibility

When it comes to dealing with complicity, acknowledging personal responsibility is the first step towards making a positive change. It requires individuals to reflect on their actions, choices, and beliefs, and recognize any instances where they may have contributed to or benefited from harmful systems or practices.

Key points to consider:

  1. Self-reflection: Take the time to critically assess your own actions, biases, and privileges.
  2. Accountability: Accept responsibility for any harm caused and commit to making amends.
  3. Education: Seek knowledge about the historical and societal contexts that perpetuate injustice.
  4. Dialogue: Engage in open and honest conversations with others to foster awareness and understanding.

Collective Responsibility

Dealing with complicity also involves recognizing our collective responsibility as members of a community or society. It requires collaboration and collective action to challenge and dismantle oppressive systems and structures. Through collective responsibility, individuals can contribute to creating a more just and inclusive society.

Strategies for collective responsibility:

  • Advocacy: Speak up for the rights and well-being of marginalized individuals and communities.
  • Support: Offer support and solidarity to those affected by oppression or injustice.
  • Community organizing: Work together with others to raise awareness, mobilize resources, and effect systemic change.
  • Allyship: Educate oneself and actively support marginalized communities by using privilege and influence to amplify their voices.

Moving Forward

Dealing with complicity is an ongoing process that requires continuous self-reflection, education, and action. By taking personal and collective responsibility, individuals can play an active role in dismantling oppressive systems and promoting equality and justice.

Remember: Recognizing complicity is not about guilt or shame, but about empowerment and creating positive change. We all have the ability to contribute to a more inclusive and equitable society.

Recognizing and Resisting Complicity in Everyday Life

Recognizing Complicity

Recognizing complicity in everyday life requires a heightened awareness of the ways in which our actions, or inactions, contribute to systems of oppression or harm. It involves critically examining our own privileges and biases, and acknowledging the ways in which we may unintentionally perpetuate inequality or enable harmful behavior.

Some signs that we may be complicit include:

  • Remaining silent when witnessing discrimination or injustice
  • Benefitting from systems or structures that marginalize others
  • Ignoring or dismissing the experiences of those who are oppressed
  • Engaging in behaviors or supporting institutions that perpetuate harm

Recognizing our own complicity can be uncomfortable and difficult, but it is an essential step towards personal growth and creating a more just society.

Resisting Complicity

Resisting complicity involves taking active steps to challenge and disrupt systems of oppression and harm. It requires us to use our privilege, resources, and influence to support marginalized communities and advocate for justice.

Here are some actions we can take to resist complicity:

  1. Listen and learn: Educate ourselves about the experiences of marginalized communities and the ways in which oppression manifests in different contexts.
  2. Amplify marginalized voices: Share and elevate the perspectives and stories of those who are often silenced or ignored.
  3. Speak up: Challenge discriminatory or harmful language and behavior when we witness it, even if it is uncomfortable.
  4. Support inclusive organizations: Seek out and support businesses, institutions, and organizations that prioritize diversity, equity, and inclusion.
  5. Vote and advocate: Use our voice and vote to support policies and candidates that promote equality and justice.

Remember that resisting complicity is an ongoing process. It requires constant self-reflection, learning, and action. By recognizing and resisting our own complicity, we can contribute to the collective efforts towards a more equitable and just society.


What is the meaning of complicity?

Complicity refers to the involvement or participation in a wrongful act with another person or group. It implies sharing responsibility or guilt for the action. Complicity can occur in various contexts, such as criminal activities, unethical behavior, or human rights violations.

Can complicity be considered a crime?

Yes, complicity can be considered a crime. When a person knowingly aids, abets, or encourages another person to commit a crime, they can be held liable as an accomplice. The level of involvement and intent may determine the extent of their criminal liability.

What are the different types of complicity?

There are several types of complicity, including active complicity, passive complicity, material complicity, and moral complicity. Active complicity involves directly participating in the wrongful act, while passive complicity involves knowing about the act but failing to take action to stop it. Material complicity refers to providing the means or resources for the act, while moral complicity pertains to endorsing or supporting the act.

What are the consequences of complicity?

The consequences of complicity can vary depending on the specific situation and jurisdiction. In legal terms, individuals who are found complicit in a crime can face criminal charges and penalties, including fines and imprisonment. Non-legal consequences may include damage to one’s reputation, strained relationships, and moral or ethical dilemmas.