Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Trust and Risk (Giddens and Luhmann)

In The Consequences of Modernity Giddens critiques Luhmann's idea of trust and its relation to risk and danger. I find what he has to say about Luhmann very interesting, as I am currently exploring Luhmann's book on Risk. Giddens says:

Trust, he [Luhmann] says, should be understood specifically in relation to risk, a term which only comes into being in the modern period. The notion  originated with the understanding that unanticipated results may be a consequence of our activities or decisions, rather than expressing hidden meanings of nature or ineffable intentions of the Deity. "Risk" largely replaces what was previously thought of as fortuna (fortune or fate) and becomes separated from cosmologies.  Trust presupposes awareness of circumstances of risk, whereas confidence does not. Trust and confidence both refer to expectations which can be frustrated or cast down. Confidence, as Luhmann uses it, refers to a more or less taken-for-granted attitude that familiar things will remain stable: 
"The normal case is that of confidence. You are confident that your expectations will not be disappointed: that politicians will try to avoid war, that cars will not break down or suddenly leave the street and hit you on your Sunday afternoon walk. You cannot live without forming expectations with respect to contingent events and you have to neglect, more or less, the possibility of disappointment. You neglect this because it is a very rare possibility, but also because you do not know what else to do. The alternative is to live in a state of permanent uncertainty and to withdraw expectations without having anything with which to replace them."
Where trust is involves, in Luhmann's view, alternatives which are consciously borne in mind by the individual in deciding to follow a particular course of action. Someone who buys a used car, instead of a new one, risks purchasing a dud. He or she places trust in the salesperson or the reputation of the firm to try to avoid this occurrence. Thus, an individual who does not consider alternatives is in a situation of confidence, whereas someone who does recognise those alternatives and tries to counter the risks thus acknowledges, engages in trust. In a situation of confidence, a person reacts to disappointment by blaming others; in circumstances of trust she or he must partly shoulder the blame and may regret having placed trust in someone or something. The distinction between trust and confidence depends upon whether the possibility of frustration is influenced by one's own previous behaviour and hence upon a correlate discrimination between risk and danger. Because the notion of risk is relatively recent in origin, Luhmann holds, the possibility of separating risk and danger  must derive from social characteristics of modernity.
Essentially,. it comes from a grasp of the fact that most of the contingencies which affect human activity are humanly created, rather than merely given by God or nature. 
Giddens disagrees with Luhmann, and explores the concept of trust from a different aspect to that of Luhmann's double-contingency-related view. The argument is important though. Trust is going to become one of the most important features of the next wave of technology: BitCoin, Blockchain, etc are all technologies of trust. Conceptualising what this means is a major challenge for social theory.

It's worth noting that Luhmann comments on Giddens's position in his Risk book with regard to the distinction between risk and danger. Giddens rejects the distinction, but Luhmann says "we must differentiate between whether a loss would occur even without a decision being taken or not - whoever it is that makes this causal attribution"

However, Luhmann throws in something into the "risk pot" which I find fascinating. He calls it "time-binding" - time, for Luhmann is at the centre of risk (another blog post needed there). Time-binding looks very much like sociomateriality + time to me.

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