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Rudolf Agricola School for Sustainable Development
Bringing sustainability science forward

Societal Trust

The chair is a special appointment sponsored by the Koninklijke Hollandsche Maatschappij der Wetenschappen (KHMW) in collaboration with the Rudolf Agricola School for Sustainable Development of the UG.

Societal trust is the fundamental cement or glue that holds society together. It is what facilitates cooperation and other forms of collective action. Trust can exist between individuals, but also between social groups, communities or institutions. Where there is trust, the need for vigilance, control, monitoring and surveillance is often felt to be lessened.

Trust is thus a precious resource.

The research group aims to involve a wide array of disciplines, including psychology, sociology, philosophy, communication studies, law and political science. We welcome everyone who is interested to join.

Focal points

The focal points of the research group will depend on the interests of participants, but will include the following:

1. Trust and distrust in science

Trust is essential not only as a facilitator for collective actions, but also for the sharing and distribution of information, which is crucial in a knowledge-based society. The interface between science and the public is multi-faceted, involving media, internet, education and public participation. It is also connected to the interface between science and policy making. How can all these channels be utilised effectively in science communication to facilitate appropriate trust in science?

2. Disinformation

Disinformation campaigns have a powerful influence on the interface between science and the public. For example, disinformation campaigns targeted at producing skepticism or apathy regarding climate change have and continue to be highly effective. Such campaigns not only aim to spread false information, but also target people’s trust in scientific and other authorities. How do these campaigns work? And how can their influence be counteracted?

3. Polarisation in society

The result of disinformation campaigns is often to lead some groups of people to embrace alternative world-views, based on a loss of trust in the ‘mainstream’ sources of information, and the development of trust in alternative sources. This lack of shared agreement on facts can amplify deep-seated disagreements and polarisation in the community. What is the role of trust in polarisation and disagreement? And how can we build the trust needed to bring communities back together?

In this group, we will not only attempt to understand what undermines trust, but will also look for concrete ideas about what can be done to create a society with a healthy and solid basis of trust.


prof. Leah Henderson

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Last modified:25 October 2023 2.57 p.m.
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