ConTrust Speaker Series 2024

A standard assumption of research is that trust and conflict stand in opposition and exclude one another. The ConTrust Speaker Series questions that assumption and inquires into the dynamics of trust and conflict in various contexts of social life. Can trust arise in, manifest itself and be stabilized in conflicts rather than apart from them? What are the conditions for that?


Monday, 17 May 2024, 6.15p.m

Trusting as a skillful act: a critical reconstruction of the sociological theory of trust

Gil Eyal (Colombia University)

“Trust” has become one of the keywords of our time. Politicians and the media bemoan the decline of trust in science and experts, as well as in public institutions more generally. Global consultancies like McKinsey and Deloitte sell trust measurement and trust building as part of their portfolio. The scholarly field of trust research has exploded in size since 2000. The assumption seems to be that we know what trust is and how to study and measure it. In this talk, building on Pierre Bourdieu’s analysis of the logic of practice, I will argue that this assumption is wrong. There is no trust, only trusting as practical, skilled action, highly dependent on context and attuned to temporal variables. “Trust itself” is a figment of the scholastic imagination and a currency used in its transactions with political and economic institutions. I will develop the argument through a critical reconstruction of the sociological theory of trust, starting with the “commonsense fallacy” bedeviling trust surveys, and then examining the “scholastic fallacy” that undermines the otherwise sophisticated theories of Luhmann, Giddens and Mollering. I will then illustrate the reconstructed theory drawing on examples from interviews with Long Covid patients.

Building „Normative Ordnungen, Max Horkheimer Str. 2, 60323 Frankfurt and online via Zoom. Please register in advance:

Monday, 13 May 2024, 6.15p.m.

Trusting the Blockchain, Trusting the Novel

Adam Kelly (Associate Professor of English at University College Dublin)

In the famous 2008 paper announcing the invention of Bitcoin, Satoshi Nakamoto justified the new currency on the basis of a need for Internet commerce to eliminate the problem of trust. “What is needed is an electronic payment system based on cryptographic proof instead of trust,” Nakamoto wrote, “allowing any two willing parties to transact directly with each other without the need for a trusted third party.” The key innovation behind Bitcoin was the blockchain, a distributed ledger technology that ensured that the record of all transactions using the currency would be ineradicable and shared. Ever since the inauguration of this technology, its implications for the problem of trust – in but also well beyond the arena of online commerce – have been heavily debated. Some titles of recent books indicate how close the connection between blockchain and trust has become: The Blockchain and the New Architecture of Trust (2018); Building Decentralized Trust: Multidisciplinary Perspectives on the Design of Blockchains and Distributed Ledgers (2021); Searching for Trust: Blockchain Technology in an Age of Disinformation (2022).

This paper examines the implications of blockchain for, and through, a much older technology that retains an intimate link with the trust architecture of human life in modern societies: the literary novel. Responding to the virtual absence of literary studies from the otherwise rich interdisciplinary debates on trust over the past few decades, the paper summarizes work in the discipline on the novel’s historical importance for embedding social trust in liberalism, a modern political and economic regime that, according to Niklas Luhmann, “attempts to shift expectations from confidence to trust.” Connecting this shift in expectations to the debates around blockchain, the final part of the paper will conduct a reading of Jennifer Egan’s The Candy House (2022). Egan’s novel offers a thought experiment about how the blockchain could impact human life, and how the novel’s own architectures of trust might respond to that impact.

Adam Kelly is Associate Professor of English at University College Dublin, having previously taught at the University of York and Harvard University. His second book, New Sincerity: American Fiction in the Neoliberal Age, is forthcoming in 2024 with Stanford University Press. His articles have appeared in journals including Comparative Literature StudiesAmerican Literary History, Studies in the Novel, and Twentieth-Century Literature. He is Principal Investigator on “Imaginative Literature and Social Trust, 1990-2025,” a four-year project funded by the Irish Research Council for the period 2022-2026.

Building „Normative Ordnungen, Max Horkheimer Str. 2, 60323 Frankfurt and online via Zoom. Please register in advance: