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.
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
Information: Paul Bouissac
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