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Forced Trust: Emotional Bonds between People and State in Soviet Russia (1917-1991), A History of Trust and Mistrust


Trust is an essential part of individual lives and the workings of modern society. Not only democracies, but also dictatorships like the Soviet state and authoritarian regimes like postwar European socialist societies needed trust as a crucial resource for social integration and stability of political order. But how much trust did a dictatorship need to ensure the regime’s viability? How did the propaganda state produce the trust necessary to legitimate itself? How did the population experience trust and mistrust in the insecurities of everyday life? Answers to those questions are important to understand problems of democratic transition in post-communist countries and to explain how neo-authoritarian systems are produced today. My project, a cultural history of trust and mistrust in Soviet Russia 1917-1991, is the first historical study to illuminate the role of emotions in organizing states and societies. I hypothesize that the Soviet state preserved social cohesion with the paradoxical principle of forced trust: the bureaucratic system’s ineffectiveness made people feel defenseless, compelling them to mistrust official institutions and join networks of forced trust under local patrons with ultimate protection from the head of state. Taking a constructivist approach, I treat trust and mistrust as socially constructed, politically directed feelings. I.e. trust and mistrust changed over time. The language, symbols, rituals and meanings adhering to these emotions reveal that they influenced history and have their own history. Trust and mistrust were moreover products of political communication during which actors struggled for status and resources in networks of forced trust, established hierarchies and regulated processes of inclusion and exclusion. Wide ranging archival and published sources allow reconstruction of intersections between state production, representation and construction of trust and mistrust and individual experience, memory and social practices.

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UCL Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Institute for Women’s Health
Gower street
WC1E 6BT London
United Kingdom

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London Inner London — West Camden and City of London
Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
Administrative Contact
Greta Borg-Carbott (Ms.)
EU contribution
No data