Complicity theory draws on critical race theory and cultural studies to explore how discourse in opposition to certain groups contributes to the negative social construction of difference as well as identity. Grounded in the theory of the opposite party attributed to the ancient Greek Sophist Thrasymachus of Chalcedon, complicity theory begins with the idea that individuals or groups that are at odds fail to see how their positions are implicated in each other’s and applies this observation to contemporary conflicts that center on issues of race, gender, class, and classification.

Complicity theory takes the notion that language creates reality to its logical extreme by suggesting that a language of argument and persuasion that rests on rigid definitions of self and other actually cultivates an understanding of difference as fundamentally negative. This account questions the underlying assumption of much Western communication theory that argument and persuasion are “natural” forms of human symbolic interaction.

Theories of complicity are not unique to communication studies. In literary theory, for example, complicity critiques account for the ways that those subjected to oppressive symbolic practices reinforce the institutional and ideological systems that oppress them. Within literary, cultural, and rhetorical studies, theories of complicity have offered powerful and provocative perspectives to view the problems and possibilities of oppositional resistance and emancipatory action.

Littlejohn, Stephen W and Karen A.Floss. (2009). Encyclopedia of Communication Theory.USA:SAGE.654

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Edwina Ayu Kustiawan