(Wilfrid Laurier University)

“Ambiguous Complicity in Social Work Practice and the Movie The Club

Social work practice is replete with moral ambiguity embedded in the multiple institutional logics that guide organizations designed to address social and health issues. In this environment actions viewed as unjust by some may be interpreted very differently by others. This moral ambiguity is compounded by the uncertainty surrounding the personal, communal, and societal consequences of alternative actions. Thus, many social workers may effectively respond to allegations of complicity by invoking Ivanka Trump’s infamous quote: “If being complicit is wanting to be a force for good and to make a positive impact then I’m complicit.” Using two case examples, this paper demonstrates how such contestations can provide a useful framework for understanding the ambiguous nature of complicity in social work practice and provide foundations for both overt and covert resistance to social injustice.

Derived from my own practice, the first case focuses on a decision regarding the placement of David, a young man with developmental disabilities, in the first group home my organization was planning to open in Tel Aviv. The affluent community in which the group home was located protested our plan, which added to the organization’s urgency to identify the least risky and most needy residents for the group home. David was one of these candidates until he was caught by the police on the beach with two boys with whom he allegedly had sexual contact. Although the police didn’t press charges, I led a discussion that concluded it was too risky to place David in the group home. The case will analyzethe decision-making process and my contribution to the unjust decision to reject David’s placement in the group home, despite strong appeals by his parents and social worker.

This analysis will be refined by looking at the representation of complicity in the Chilean movie The Club. The Club in the title refers to a coastal village house established by the Church for priests involved in improper behaviors. A villager (Sandokán) disturbs the peaceful life of its residents by standing outside the house, speaking loudly and explicitly about the sexual abuse he experienced by a newly arrived priest, who immediately shoots himself. A representative of the Church (Father Garcia) arrives to investigate what happened, and possibly close the house. During the investigation, the priests devise a diabolical plan to silence Sandokán. At first, Father Garcia is complicit with their plan, which leads to Sandokán’s being beaten by the villagers. However, in the final scenes of the movie he carries the bruised and bleeding Sandokán into the house, and decrees that from now on Sandokán will reside in the Club and be cared for by the priests.

Contrasting the above narratives will sharpen our understanding of the ambiguous nature of complicity by professionals facing complex moral and political realities and demonstrate how such complicity can be contested in a way that justifies resistance and provide avenues for change.