Trust and Social Movements

Irene Weipert-Fenner and Jonas Wolff publish special issue of the "International Journal of Comparative Sociology"

Titelblatt der Zeitschrift

Global mass protests, triggered by various socio-economic and poli­tical grievances, have charac­terized the past decade. However, one impor­tant aspect of mobili­zation has been largely neglect­ed in protest and move­ment research: the role of trust. This aspect takes center stage in the special issue of the “Inter­national Journal of Compa­rative Sociology”, which will be published in Winter 2024/2025. All articles and the intro­duction by Nadine Sika, Federico Rossi, Irene Weipert-Fenner and Jonas Wolff are already available online.

When activists and groups take part in collective – potentially risky – actions for a common goal, they rely on the expec­tation that their comrades-in-arms and allies will not let them down. To date, however, little is known about the causes and dynamics of trust-building during mobili­zation processes. The same applies to the conse­quences of trust: to what extent do different types and inten­sities of trust in social move­ments help to explain the forms and out­comes of mobilization?

The special issue “Trust and Social Move­ments” of the “International Journal of Compa­rative Socio­logy” will address this promising research gap. It brings together previously largely separate research approaches to social move­ments and trust. As the editors Irene Weipert-Fenner, Federico Rossi, Nadine Sika and Jonas Wolff emphasize in their intro­duction, this syste­matic combi­nation paves the way for a more differentiated under­standing of the condi­tions under which mass protests emerge, their persis­tence and, in parti­cular, their develop­ment into broader and sustainable social movements.

The special issue consists of two parts: The first part looks at the role of trust and the dynamics of trust-building within move­ments, focusing on both high-risk activism in parti­cularly repressive contexts, such as Hong Kong, and networks of civil society organiz­ations in democratic countries in Europe, Latin America and sub-Saharan Africa. Trust, it can be shown, is not an external factor, but is formed, stabilized, weakened or even destroyed in the course of collective conflicts. Other contri­butions address, a.o., the challenge of how group identi­ties and interests can be preserved within broad coali­tions as well as the connection between specific types of trust and the sustain­able existence of movements.

The second part of the special edition focuses on the state's reactions and the influence of inter­action with the state on horizon­tal relation­ships of trust within movements. Case studies, such as those on Egypt and Belarus, once again illustrate the enormous geo­graphical scope of the volume. They also demon­strate that authori­tarian governments can success­fully pursue confidence-damaging measures and thus undermine social mobiliz­ation and protest partici­pation. Conversely, a look at activist strategies shows how theories of demo­cratic innovation, dialog and trust-building benefit from new empiri­cal findings: For example, Nicole Doerr, visiting fellow at PRIF, and Janus Hansen show how Danish and German climate activists on the path to a green trans­formation use their position inside and outside state insti­tutions to build trust between political, govern­mental and civil society actors and bridge different ideo­logies and identi­ties.

The special issue emerged as part of the research initia­tive “ConTrust: Trust in Conflict – Political Life under Condi­tions of Uncer­tainty” by Goethe University and PRIF, which is funded by the Hessian Ministry of Science, Research and the Arts. Individual articles from the “Trust and social movements” issue are available online, including the introduction by Irene Weipert-Fenner, Jonas Wolff et al. The print edition will follow in winter 2024/25.