POLIS Research Seminar: 'Trust, Distrust, and Mass Atrocity Prevention: the Central African Republic'

Professor Adrian Gallagher gives the next talk in the POLIS Research Seminar series.


The article calls on academics and policymakers who focus on mass atrocity prevention to engage with Trust Studies. This is needed because on one hand, trust and distrust are commonly identified as a significant factor in destruction processes, but on the other hand, there is no substantive engagement with the concepts of trust, distrust, or Trust Studies. To shed light on the importance and value of Trust Studies, the article focuses on the role that trust and distrust play in the Central African Republic (CAR). To do this, it draws interdisciplinary insight from Trust Studies as well as research on the CAR (Anthropology, Sociology, African Studies, and Political Science). Through an analysis of both social and political trust it argues liberal strategies toward mass atrocity prevention are failing to understand the magnitude of the task at hand. Essentially, UN-led approaches view practices such as peace talks and national dialogues as ways of rebuilding trust in order to foster peace. This is problematic for four reasons. First, it assumes trust existed, broke down, and can be rebuilt but as CAR illustrates, trust never existed in the manner implied in such approaches. Second, it fails to understand the multidimensional nature of distrust in that it can fuel mass atrocities but also has normative value as it acts as a form of protection. Third, it has an overly simplistic view of the relationship between trust, distrust, and cooperation as it proceeds on the liberal view that trust is a priori for cooperation whereas CAR illustrates that cooperation can occur where trust is absent. Fourth, mainstream approaches fail to consider that external actors (the UN, Great Powers, and Regional States) are viewed with distrust because they have a track record of exploitation and harm in CAR. This further underlines the normative value of distrust in the CAR and raise the question, ‘who can act as a trusted agent?’ As this is the first article to engage with mass atrocity prevention and Trust Studies, it hopes to pave the way for new research on this subject matter.   

POLIS Research Seminar Series

These seminars take place on Wednesdays, 1-2pm, in term-time on MS Teams. To join or for further details, please contact Marie Johnson M.B.Johnson@leeds.ac.uk