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Shaken Order: Authority and Social Trust in Post-Communist Societies – Case Studies in Law

Duration: 2007 – 2009

Authority and social trust are essential ingredients of social life, in a sense they may even be considered the ‘basic glue’ social integration is made of. As everything else in people’s historical existence, however, they are subject to constant, sometimes profound, change which may affect the very foundations of society. 

The general goal of the proposed collective interdisciplinary research project is to investigate the dynamics and especially the tendency towards deterioration of authority and social trust in the social field of law in the overall context of globalisation, with special accent on the (European) post-totalitarian societies. This goal comprises three main objectives: 1) to identify the systemic/structural and the epistemological preconditions of the profound changes of authority and social trust; 2) to study the effects of these processes on the social (in)stability and the possibilities for institutional reforms in the field; 3) to interrogate the heuristic potential of the existing theoretical traditions in the problem areas of the project and to generate some new ideas and approaches.

For achieving these objectives, the project is designed in a way which could offer heuristic perspectives and inspiration for scholars from different disciplines and with different theoretical preferences. Each individual proposal will have its own focus which, however, should be in compliance with the aims of the whole project. At least some of the individual projects are expected to include cross-national comparisons.

The project seeks to answer questions such as:

  • How should we reconsider the familiar notions of authority and trust in the context of the overwhelming globalisation and the enlargement of the European Union?
  • Is the dynamics of authority unfolding parallel to corresponding dynamics of public trust or the presumed connection between the two variables is more complex and contextually dependent? 
  • How successfully is the decrease of the authority and the public trust in the national institutions compensated for by global institution-building in order to maintain functional level of social stability? 
  • Where are the “loci of authority” in contemporary societies and what kinds of “authority structures” replace the national state as a central authority of modernity? 
  • What is the real influence on the dynamics of authority and trust of the reforms carried out in the three social fields in the (European) post-totalitarian societies after 1989? 
  • Does the decrease of authority and trust have, along with the negative social consequences, some positive effects in the realms of individual autonomy and citizen’s activity?

The general assumption of the project is that the profound changes in the distribution and levels of authority and social trust result mostly from the co-evolution of global systemic-structural processes (such as democratisation, pluralisation, expansion of mass-media, intensified international migration, diminished prerogatives of the nation state, insufficiency of the supra-national institution-building as a substitute source of social order) and epistemological changes (i.e. the dramatically transforming contemporary notions of rationality, emergence of “mode 2 science”).

As interdisciplinary approaches are encouraged in this project, a highly elaborated, strictly uniform theory is not supposed to be imposed on the individual projects. Instead, bridges will be built on the level of different conceptualisations and fields. However, in order for this dialogue to be productive, some common core of general theoretical ideas or theoretical “leading image” for the entire project needs to be developed, including series of basic theoretical assumptions and common understanding of the main concepts. So, all the individual projects are supposed to deal with some shared and simple enough implications of the initially developed general framework. First of all (in addition to the project’s main hypothesis), they will deal with the notion that profound changes in the distribution and levels of authority and trust are not limited to the post-totalitarian space, but are really world-wide and thus subject to some global regularities. Second, with the idea that the processes of central interest for the project are significantly influenced by the crucial characteristics of both totalitarian and post-totalitarian experience. Third, with the understanding that national cultures and persisting national traditions have their own and important impact on the dynamics of authority and social trust.

A great variety of methods and sources of information will be used, as in each case study, the choice of the method will be a responsibility of the individual researcher. However, generally speaking, sociological and anthropological methods (with an emphasis on qualitative techniques for data collection) seem to be most appropriate for achieving the project’s research objectives.

The expected result of the project is an innovative and detailed picture of the dynamics of authority and social trust in the Law social field. On the theoretical level, building on the results from the case studies, the project team will elaborate a model of the factors responsible for the changes in authority and social trust in the field of law in the post-totalitarian (European) societies. It will also identify, “map” and systematise trends in the dynamics, especially in the process of deterioration of authority and social trust, within the field of interest and related fields. The project will also contribute to deepening our understanding of the notions of authority and social trust by revealing the way the specificity of the Law social field influences the dynamics of authority and social trust, as well as the intimate relationship between the changes of authority and the changes of public trust.

The policy relevance of the results of the project is ensured by the fact that it will provide data and analysis on issues which are very “hot”, i.e. publicly sensitive and important for the future development of the post-communist societies. 

The project has been supported by the Trust for Civil Society in Central and Eastern Europe and Rule of Law Program South East Europe of Konrad Adenauer Foundation, Germany.