Last Update: 4 Jan 2006
Risk, Trust And Civility
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A pluridisciplinary symposium on "Risk, Trust and Civility" took place on May 6-8, at Victoria College (University of Toronto).

The program is accessible in the Virtual Symposia Archives.

The position papers will be posted below in their revised forms.

Other papers relevant to the symposium theme will be added as they become available.

Comments and new position papers may be submitted to for publication and discussion on this website.

To communicate with the authors via email click on their names.

Documents are in PDF format

Position Papers

A Distrustful Economy: An Inquiry into Foundations of the Russian Market
Anton Oleinik

Civility of Basic Distrust: A cultural-psychological view on persons-in-society
Jaan Valsiner (Clark University)

Framing and signaling in the development of trust
Bart Nooteboom (Tilburg University, the Netherlands)

Transaction Cost Economics and Plausible Actors: A Cognitive Reappraisal
Luit Gazendam & Rene J. Jorna (University of Groningen, the Netherlands)

What Is A Trustworthy Face?
Paul Bouissac (University of Toronto, Victoria College)

Weber, Elias, and the Semiotics of Civility: Pre-Modern, Modern and Post-Modern Capitalism and Trust
J. I. (Hans) Bakker (University of Guelph)

Faustian Ethos and Vocal Ambitus: The Vocal Style of Actors Playing Faustian Situations
Sébastien Ruffo (Queen's University)

Risk, Trust, and Civility: A Pluridisciplinary Symposium

Victoria College, May 6-8, 2005

Depending on one's beliefs, ideology and personal experience, human life can be perceived either as rife with risks of all sorts or sustained by mutual trust which extends beyond the sphere of social communication. Some view otherness as a permanent menace against which defensive strategies are always in order; some others consider trust to be the natural foundation of society and cosmological order. The discourse of truth and trust focuses on altruism and confidence, and the discourse of cheat and threat focuses on competition and deception. Both discourses, however, must address arguments from the other side and cannot ignore that civility is at the same time possible and fragile. Civil societies, and the political and commercial transactions upon which they are based, are indeed supported by legal and ethical systems designed to limit and control risks and to develop and protect trust. Ultimately, the issue is whether trust can be interpreted only in the context of cheating strategies or can be considered as the natural foundation of sociality.

This fundamental debate permeates the whole array of disciplines in the humanities and the social sciences as well as some domains of the natural sciences. For example, the evolution of deceptive morphologies and strategies, as well as reliable cues that allow "mind-reading", and various forms of altruistic behavior in social species, are topics that are often passionately discussed among evolutionists. Whether the study of human development and socialisation is construed as an autonomous domain of inquiry or interface with theories of evolution, the management of trust and risk in education is equally relevant. From a cognitive point of view, trust can be considered to be a way of reducing mental loading. Construing trust as a propositional attidude (in Fodor's sense) raises the issues of whether all propositions are alike and what are the cognitive processes involved in such "attitude". From an organizational perspective, trust can be seen as a compensating mechanism in relation to a certain organizational form (feudal system, market economy, etc.), or a coordination mechanism (standardization, power, etc.). In literature, the representation of deceipt and treason, loyalty and sacrifice, and, most of time, the eventual restoration of civility, form a rich lode to be mined

On the epistemological level, the issue is not only whether one can trust evidence based on scientific methods, but also whether one can blindly rely upon the all-purpose logic which is the fabric of our minds. Is danger and uncertainty at the very core of intellectual endeavors? Do all decision-making processes involve transcendant hidden agenda or implement blind evolutionary constraints? While he philosophical roots of this debate go back deep in history, it was brought to the fore in modern and post-modern times through the conceptualization of chance, probability and chaos. The relation of risk to trust (or uncertainty to predictability) has been quantified in game theory and the results of these formal speculations have been applied, for example, in economics, political science, sociology and evolutionary biology.

Contemporary cognitive psychologists (e.g., Glimcher 2003), anthropologists (e.g., Douglas 1994), sociologists (e.g., Luhman 1979, 1994; Sztompka 1999), political scientists and economists (e.g., Seligman 1992, Nooteboom 2002), evolutionary biologists (e.g., Dugatkin 1999, Trivers 2002), historians of institutions (e.g., Johnstone 1999) and cultural theorists (e.g., Lupton 1999), to name only a few, have tackled the challenging problems posed by this epistemological and moral conundrum which ultimately foregrounds semiotic processes of interpretation and decision making.

The purpose of this symposium is to bring together ten scholars from different disciplines, representing the two cultures, and to engage in a dialogue toward a better understanding of the relationship of risk and trust to civility. It is expected that the discussion will be further expanded through a virtual symposium and will form the basis for a more comprehensive approach in a future international conference to be organized in 2007.


Adams, John (1995) Risk. London: University College London Press
Douglas, Mary T. (1994) Risk and Blame. Essays in Cultural Theory. London: Routledge
Dugatkin, Lee (1999) Cheating Monkeys and Citizen Bees. The Nature of Cooperation in Animals and Humans. New York: Free Press
Glimcher, Paul (2003) Decisions, Uncertainty, and the Brain. The cience of Neuroeconomics. Cambridge: MIT Press
Johnstone, Steven (1999) Disputes and Democracy: The Consequences of Litigation in
Ancient Athens. University of Texas Press
Luhman, Niklas (1979) Trust and Power. Chichester: Wiley
Luhman, Niklas (1994) Risk: A Sociological Theory. New York: Aldine de Gruyter
Lupton, Deborah (1999) Risk. London: Routledge
Nooteboom, Bart (2002) Trust: Forms, Foundations, Functions, Failures and Figures. Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar
Seligman, A. (1992) The Idea of Civil Society. New York: Free Press
Sztompka, Piotr (1999) Trust. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
Trivers, Robert (2002) Natural Selection and Social Theory. New York: Oxford University

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