This major international ESRC-funded project 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 beliefs about the legitimacy of governance institutions shape political and social behaviour and mobilisation patterns among different groups in society. However, these important relationships remain under-researched. In particular, most of the evidence on the links between inequality, trust and governance comes from a handful of developed countries where data are available.
The project will focus on three key areas: how trust within and between social groups towards governance institutions emerges in contexts of rising inequality; how trust in unequal societies shapes governance outcomes through factors such as political behaviour and social mobilisation; and the manner in which changes to these factors can sometimes result in inclusive governance outcomes and the breakdown of governance in others.
Research will focus on a set of countries – Colombia, Ethiopia 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. Specific objectives of the project include to:
- Bring together valuable inter-disciplinary knowledge to provide new theoretical insights on how trust within and between social groups and towards institutions of governance shapes the relationship between economic inequalities and governance outcomes in unstable democracies.
- Offer new comparative empirical evidence, based on secondary data and primary data collection through mixed methods, on how trust shapes trajectories of governance in unequal and unstable democracies.
- Explore innovative methodological approaches to measure inequality, trust and governance outcomes, and their complex interactions, using historical archives, satellite images, behavioural experiments, qualitative interviews and survey methods.
- Identify entry points to policy interventions that support inclusive governance institutions and ensure the security, inclusion and civic involvement of citizens living in challenging political contexts.
These objectives will be achieved by a team of highly experienced researchers, whose past track record includes world-leading research on governance, conflict, trust and inequality. 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.