AUFF Starter Grant: Observing social trust in the everyday workings of welfare states – Romania and Denmark compared

Projekter: ProjektForskning



Social trust, ‘a reciprocal orientation of people to each other…at the root of social interaction (Sapsford and Abbott 2006, p. 61), remains a contested concept. Some see trust as generating social capital (Uslaner 1999), others that civic engagement generates social trust and underpins democracy (Putnam 1993). Armony (2004) explores social capital’s antidemocratic, discriminatory and socially unequal implications. In the Simmel tradition (Giddens, Luhmann) trust has an affective and moral base (Möllering 2001). This project proposes a novel, empirically-grounded approach to analyse and understand social trust by examining citizen–street-level bureaucrat (SLB) analogous interactions in two ‘polar-opposite’ trust societies (Denmark + Romania).

Denmark presents an emblematic case (Torpe 2003, Dinesen and Sønderskov 2012): citizens supposedly routinely trust strangers. In contrast, generalised social trust is purportedly low in Eastern Europe (EE) and people prefer ‘particularised’ informal social networks to ‘unpredictable’ SLBs (Delhey and Newton, 2003, Mihaylova 2004). Romania has some of the lowest levels of generalised social trust (Bertea and Mihei, 2014) and rising inequalities in EE. Political polarisation recently across EE overlaps with increasing socio-economic divides, as Sztompka’s trust theory (1999) predicted; democracy and trust are correlated (Berglund 2013) but evidence is needed on causation. Thus, the two country cases represent a productive comparison study of the enactment of social trust through SLB interactions. The project aims to show whether micro and macro scales are interrelated.

The conceptual problem of trust (whether ‘generalised’ or ‘particularised’) (Delhey et al. 2011) is compounded by the lack of empirical grounding (e.g. Paxton 2001). Indeed, scholars frequently identify methodological flaws in measuring levels of trust through surveys, or a lack of ‘real world’ test data (Paldam 2000, van Deth 2003).The project therefore proposes a major methodological departure in examining trust from an ethnographic perspective, triangulated with existing survey data and interrogating existing theory, thus resulting in a multi-level/multi-approach analysis.

To do this, the project focusses on micro-level trust in SLB-citizen encounters. Lipsky (1980) famously wrote that SLBs ‘hold the keys to a dimension of citizenship.’ These interactions, even if ‘formal procedures’, entail discretion, flexibility, and uncertainty. Therefore, they are a natural lab for the manifestation of social trust and capital(s), and a test of how they work in practice (Delhey and Newton 2005). Trust and cooperation are hypothesised as interrelated. Example hypotheses are that higher trust will see more positive discretionary outcomes, lower trust the opposite, as well as informational asymmetry and bureaucratic blocking.

Research Questions:
Even in established social democracies, SLB discretion can result in asymmetrical outcomes (e.g. different police reactions to a minor misdemeanour). 1. In what ways do discretionary/differential treatments by SLBs relate to social trust? 2. If socio-economic class, race, or migrant background relate to the nature and outcomes of such interactions, what does that tell us about the conceptual limits of social trust and the reification of forms of social capital into fungible forms for some, but not all, citizens? 3. Finally, in what ways do outcomes affected by interactions shape welfare state adaptation and, thus, the dynamics of welfare retrenchment long-term? Consequently, to what degree does this problematize the welfare state as a legitimate and effective tool for pursuing social justice?

The project uniquely combines four cutting-edge topics (trust, organisational ethnography, EE state building, and European welfare state retrenchment) in an international research group. It promotes mixed-method empirical research, produces new empirical and theoretical knowledge offering a policy-informing view of ‘actually-experienced’ social trust and welfare state retrenchment in ‘new’ and ‘old’ EU countries, including Denmark’s benchmark status as a trust society and Nordic welfare model (Delhey and Newton 2005).

Armony, A. 2004 The Dubious Link: Civic Engagement and Democratization, Stanford university Press
Berglund, Sten, ed. The handbook of political change in Eastern Europe. Edward Elgar Publishing, 2013.
Bertea, P. E. and Mihei, A. 2014 ‘Social Trust – Differences and Similarities between EE Countries’, EURINT, Vol.1, pp.29-37.
Delhey, Jan, and Kenneth Newton. "Who trusts?: The origins of social trust in seven societies." European Societies 5.2 (2003): 93-137.
Delhey, Jan, and Kenneth Newton. "Predicting cross-national levels of social trust: global pattern or Nordic exceptionalism?." European Sociological Review 21.4 (2005): 311-327.
Delhey, Jan, Newton, K. and Welzel, C. 2011. How General Is Trust in “Most People”? Solving the Radius of Trust Problem American Sociological Review Vol 76, Issue 5, pp. 786 - 807
Dinesen, Peter Thisted, and Kim Mannemar Sønderskov. "Trust in a time of increasing diversity: On the relationship between ethnic heterogeneity and social trust in Denmark from 1979 until today." Scandinavian Political Studies35.4 (2012): 273-294.
Lascaux, A. (2008) Trust and uncertainty: a critical re-assessment, Int. Review of Sociology, 18:1, 1-18.
Mihaylova, D. 2004. "Social capital in Central and Eastern Europe. A critical assessment and literature review." Language: 168.
Möllering, G. 2006 ’The Nature of Trust: From Georg Simmel to a Theory of Expectation, Interpretation and Suspension’, Sociology: 35: 2: 403-420.
Morris, J. and A. Polese 2014 'Informal Health and Education Sector Payments in Russian and Ukrainian Cities: Structuring Welfare from Below ', European Urban and Regional Studies, 23(3): 481-496.
Morris, J. and A. Polese 2015 Informal Economies in Post-Socialist Spaces: Practices, Institutions and Networks, Palgrave.
Paldam, M. 2000 ‘Social Capital: One or many? Definition and Measurement’, Journal of Economic Surveys 14:5, pp. 629-653.
Paxton, P. 2001. Review of: Trust: A Sociological Theory by Piotr Sztompka Review by: Source: Social Forces, Vol. 79, No. 3, pp. 1187-1188
Polese, A., Morris, J., Kovács, B & Ida Harboe 2014 'Welfare States' and Social Policies in Eastern Europe and the former USSR: Where Informality fits in’, Journal of Contemporary European Studies, 22: 2: 184-198.
Putnam, R. D. (1993). Making Democracy Work: Civic Traditions in Modern Italy. Princeton U Press.
Sapsford, P. and Abbott, R. 2006. ‘Life-satisfaction in post-Soviet Russia and Ukraine’, Journal of Happiness Studies (2006) 7:251–287.

Sztompka Piotr Trust: A Sociological Theory. By. Cambridge University Press, 1999.
Torpe, Lars. "Social capital in Denmark: a deviant case?." Scandinavian Political Studies 26.1 (2003): 27-48.

Uslaner, Eric M. (1999) ‘Democracy and social capital’, in Mark Warren (ed.)
Democracy and Trust, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 121–50.
van Deth, J. (2003). Measuring social capital: Orthodoxies and continuing controversies. The International
Journal of Social Research Methodology: Theory and Practice, 6, 79–92.
Effektiv start/slut dato02/04/2018 → …


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