ConTrust: Trust in Conflict

Conflicts are inevitable in social contexts. But what provides us with the certainty that disputes will not escalate, that the respective counter­part will abide by rules, that institutions will safe­guard us against trans­gressions, and that the social world as a whole will remain stable? The answer is trust. Trust creates an unsecured security that can never be fully redeemed and yet constitutes the secret of social co­existence. But how is trust formed, what are its origins?

The joint research initiative ConTrust of the Goethe University Frankfurt and the Peace Research Institute Frankfurt contrasts with prevailing tendencies in the relevant field of research. First, it does not understand trust as an opposite concept to that of conflict, but rather assumes that trust only becomes apparent, forms, and proves itself in conflict. Second, the research initiative seeks to methodically transcend conventional disciplinary boundaries in the study of trust and conflict as well as the gap between empirical and normative analyses. Third, the research of the initiative will frame the ‘question of trust’ as one that enquires into new qualities of uncertainty (and insecurity) which did not become apparent for the first time in the corona pandemic (but there especially). This includes reflection on the changing media in which trust and mistrust are communicated and constituted and conflicts are represented. Fourth, it is made clear that, unlike in most alternative approaches, the concept of trust is not to be evaluated in a consistently positive way, but that there can also be authoritarian forms of trust that are freedom­negating and politically destructive. Finally, the project aims to draw practical conclusions regarding the possibilities of shaping conflicts in such a way that trust can be formed and stabilized in a productive way. In this sense, dialogue with society is an integral part of our research.

These assumptions and intentions structure the collaborative, interdisciplinary, empirical as well as normative study of trust in conflict contexts ranging from democratic structures to international politics and markets to knowledge discourses and media. From this, the researchers intend to develop a diagnostic of the dynamics of trust and mistrust in typical conflict constellations over the next four years and use it to found an international research center for trust and conflict.

The participants in the initiative form five inter­disciplinary working groups, each of which analyzes a politically and socially relevant context of trust and conflict in times of uncertainty and develops its own work program. The program is based at the Normative Orders Research Centre at Goethe University Frankfurt.

For further information, please visit the project website.