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10: Historical aspects of trust and confidence in societies

Seminar / Seminar
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The “cultural turn” in historiography is now a quarter of a century old, and it has generated valuable insights. But hitherto, under the influence mainly of Foucault, it has usually focussed on power relationships. There is no inherent reason why this should be so. Social bonds are not entirely constituted by power and dependence: they are supplemented by ties of attachment, reliance, affection, interdependence and even just habit, which are not wholly independent of power structures, but are not wholly generated or engulfed by them either. Perhaps we need a new approach, centring on such ties, for which the most appropriate generic term would probably be “trust”. Niklas Luhmann, a German sociologist expert, and a sophisticated researcher in sociological systems theory unearthed “trust” as early as in the late 1970s. Since the 1990s trust has become a parameter of international sociological research, still lacking, however, the historical dimension which will be included as important empirical evidence in this seminar. Both the financial crisis of 1870 and the crash of 1929 provide striking material for deeper reflection concerning trust and democracy as such. As it happens, too, we are now in the middle of a global financial predicament which many commentators call a “crisis of trust”. This is, then, a particulary appropriate time for historians to consider whether “trust” might not be a useful concept for understanding social structures and social processes as well as economic and political decision-making.


Professor emeritus of Russian History, School of Slavonic and East European Studies, University College London Chair
Professor, Department of Contemporary History, University of Vienna Chair

Mag. DDr. Oliver RATHKOLB

Professor, Department of Contemporary History, University of Vienna

1985-2004 Research Director, Bruno Kreisky Archives, Vienna
1992-2004 Research Co-ordinator, Bruno Kreisky Forum for International Dialogue, Vienna
1994-2004 Co-director, Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for History and Society, Vienna
2000-2001 Schumpeter-Fellow, Minda de Gunzburg Center for European Studies, Harvard University
2003 Visiting Professor, Department of History, University of Chicago
2005-2008 Director, Ludwig Boltzmann Institute of European History and Public Spheres, Vienna
2008-2012 Head, Department of Contemporary History, Faculty of Historical and Cultural Studies, University of Vienna

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kategorie: Alle PlenarySeminar