Critical Trust: Social Movements and Democracy in Times of Crisis
The recent financial crisis and, especially, anti-austerity policies, reflects and, at the same time, contribute to a crisis of representative democracy. In this article, I discuss which different conceptions of trust (and relations to democracy) have been debated in the social sciences, and in public debates in recent time. The financial crisis has in fact stimulated a hot debate on “whose trust” is relevant for “whose democracy”. After locating the role of trust in democratic theory, I continue with some illustrations of a declining political trust in Europe, coming from my own research on social movements, but also of the emergence, in theory and practices, of other conceptions of democracy and democratic spaces, where critical trust develops. Indignados’ movements in Spain and Greece as well as the Occupying Wall Street protest in the US are just the most visible reaction of a widespread dissatisfaction with the declining quality of democratic regimes. They testify for the declining legitimacy of traditional conceptions of democracy, as well as for the declining trust in representative institutions. At the same time, however, these movements conceptualize and practice different democratic models that emphasize participation over delegation and deliberation over majority voting. In doing this, they present a potential for reconstructing social and political trust from below.
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