dismantling the singular trusting subject: a comparative exploration of trust in guatemala and norway
Margit Ystanes (UiB)
The phenomenon of trust is receiving considerable attention today, in everyday talk about concerns over the economy and social coherence, as well as in social theory. However, there is little agreement among researchers as to what exactly trust is and how we can study it. It is therefore very unclear what we actually know about this phenomenon. A couple of features are nevertheless present in most trust research. Firstly, there is a tendency to assume that trust is essentially produced in the same way everywhere. The fundamental building blocks of the social, which constitute the conditions for trust in any context, are therefore often ignored or superficially treated in studies of trust. Secondly, it is often assumed that we can study trust with reference to a singular subject modelled on a generalised notion of a “Western” self, often referred to as the Truster. As I tried to find a conception of trust that would help me think about why trust is so precarious in the Guatemalan context I have worked, these features caused considerable problems. Guatemalan society is marked by hierarchical differences produced by complex notions of embodied superiority and inferiority, which can be traced back to the colonial encounter. This variety of hierarchised subject positions makes it impossible to analyse trust with reference to a singular trusting subject, and highlights the limitations produced by a superficial treatment of social orders in the study of social phenomena. The main argument of my talk is therefore that that if we are to understand trust as it appears ethnographically, we must dissolve the singularly conceived subject we often find in trust research. Instead, we must focus our attention on the very conditions for trust and its negation in specific, thickly conceived lifeworlds. I will mainly use ethnography from my work in Guatemala to exemplify this point, but will also make a tentative comparison with the Norwegian context.
Margit Ystanes is a researcher at the Department of Social Anthropology, University of Bergen. Her recent PhD dissertation, Precarious Trust. Problems of Managing Self and Sociality in Guatemala (2011), explores the conditions for trust among ladino Guatemalans, spanning both intimate and public contexts.
Time: 25 November, 13.15-15.00
Venue: Uni Rokkansenteret, Nygårdsgaten 5, 6th Floor