Inequality and Governance in Unstable Democracies: The Mediating Role of Trust

start date
1 March 2019
end date
28 February 2023
£2.3 million

This major international ESRC-funded programme aims to explore how trust mediates the relationship between inequality and governance in settings where democratic institutions may be unstable or under threat.

Trust is central to understanding the effects of inequality on governance because the way people have confidence in others and their beliefs about the legitimacy of governance institutions shape political and social behaviour and mobilisation patterns among different groups in society. Yet, these important relationships remain under-researched, particularly outside a handful of developed countries where data are available.

The programme addresses three key research questions:

  • How do different forms of trust change and relate to each other in contexts of rising or persistent inequalities?
  • What intervening factors determine how trust in unequal contexts shapes governance outcomes?
  • What are the pathways through which changes in such intervening factors may sometimes result in inclusive democracy but in the breakdown of governance at other times?

Research will focus on a set of countries – Colombia, Mozambique and Pakistan – where democratic institutions have faced considerable challenges, including political violence at times. Comparisons will be made with Spain, a country where democratic governance is well established but where economic pressures in recent times have increased social and political tensions.

For more details please visit the country case studies individual project pages:

The programme implementation is done by an international research team, whose past track record includes world-leading research on governance, conflict, trust and inequality. Led by IDS, the programme partners include UNU-WIDER, Institute of Development and Economic Alternatives (IDEAS), International Security and Development Center (ISDC), Universidad de Los AndesUniversity of OxfordUniversity of Essex and Georgetown University.  This team brings together valuable expertise from political science, economics, sociology, history and conflict studies to advance scientific knowledge on the relationship between inequality, trust and governance, as well as provide valuable entry points for policy interventions that support inclusive governance and social cohesion agendas.

Quick link to Publications


Ali Cheema

LUMS and IDEAS, Pakistan

John Gaventa

Research Fellow and Director, Action for Empowerment and Accountability (A4EA) programme

Professor at University of Essex

Professor at Georgetown University

Leopoldo Fergusson

Associate Professor at the Universidad de los Andes

Patricia Justino

Professorial Fellow

Research Fellow at UNU-WIDER

Gladstone Professor at the University of Oxford


Recent work

Working Paper

Secession and Social Polarization: Evidence from Catalonia

WIDER Working Paper;2021/2

Does secessionism lead to social polarisation? Despite much research on independence movements, their relationship to polarisation, a key mechanism theorised as increasing the chances of violent conflict, remains less understood. We argue that secessionist conflicts can polarise along both...

Laia Balcells & 2 others

22 January 2021

Working Paper

Trust in the Time of Corona

WIDER Working Paper;2020/82

The global spread of COVID-19 is one of the largest threats to people and governments since the Second World War. The on-going pandemic and its counter-measures have led to varying physical, psychological, and emotional experiences, shaping not just public health and the economy but also...

Tilman Brueck & 3 others

12 October 2020

Working Paper

Africa’s Lockdown Dilemma: High Poverty and Low Trust

WIDER Working Paper;2020/76

The primary policy response to suppress the spread of COVID-19 in high-income countries has been to lock down large sections of the population. However, there is growing unease that blindly replicating these policies might inflict irreparable damage to poor households and foment social unrest in...

12 October 2020

Working Paper

Riots and Social Capital in Urban India

WIDER Working Paper;2020/42

This paper explores the relationship between household exposure to riots and social capital in urban India using a panel dataset collected by the authors in the state of Maharashtra.The analysis applies a random-effect model with lagged covariates to estimate the exogenous effect of riots on...

12 October 2020