Social Trust As An Undesirable Outcome

Better Essays
PS236 Spring 2014
Yanjun LIU
Who Trusts? : Social Trust as an Undesirable Outcome in Contemporary China
Abstract: When is social trust a desirable outcome for democracy? A debate on the (un) desirability of social trust has emerged in recent literature with one side arguing for the bright side of social trust---favoring democracies in democratic contexts and another side arguing for the dark side of social trust----favoring nondemocracies in nondemocratic contexts. By asking who trusts and whether the most trusting individuals will be the vanguards of democratization, this research brings China into the debate and demonstrates with some quantitative evidence from a representative national sample that in China, higher levels of social
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I. Introduction
Social trust has long been recognized as builders of effective democratic governance or facilitators of transition to democracy. While most research has primarily been limited to democratic contexts, some recent research has expanded to nondemocratic contexts. In contrast to various mainstream theories of “good” social trust derived from democratic contexts, some recently emerging theories of “bad” social trust derived from nondemocratic contexts argue that social trust in nondemocratic countries may become stabilizers of incumbent autocratic or authoritarian regimes rather than promoters of democratization. This debate is still at its early stage given that most existing research has just extended to several nondemocratic countries.
This paper tries to join in this newly opened debate by expanding the research radar into the context of contemporary China. Specifically, this paper asks: who trusts in today’s China? Is social trust a desirable outcome for the prospect of democracy in China and why?
The rest of the paper is organized as follows: we will first survey the literature development on social trust from its bright side in conventional wisdom, to the sea change-triggering debate on its political institutional origins that brings context back in, to its dark side getting our attention in recent years. This will be followed by a brief review of a few existing research on social trust in China and the development of several testable
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