ICCS Research Seminar: Methodological Insights on Studying Distrust in IR

Wednesday 16 February 2022 (13:00-14:30)

We argue distrust-reduction in adversarial diplomatic relationships requires theorising as an independent process to that of trust-building. 

Drawing upon conceptualisations of distrust as distinct, but related to trust, we argue that the trust-building assumption fails to recognise the importance of distrust-reduction as a distinct area of academic and policy inquiry. Noting distrust and trust are not polar opposites on a continuum, and consequently the absence of trust does not equate to distrust, we develop a Distrust-Ambivalence-Trust model of how actors can transition from relationships of complete distrust to ambivalence by engaging in an empathic dialogue. This, we contend, rejects the conflation of mistrust and distrust that characterises much of the extant theorising in IR allowing the connection between empathy development and distrust reduction in international politics. We aim in a subsequent development of this paper to us a process-tracing methodology to test this model in relation to the case study of the de-escalation of the China-India border crisis in the late 1980s, when the two countries dissolved a distrusting relationship that fed escalatory dynamics.


Chiara Cervasio, Institute for Conflict, Cooperation and Security, University of Birmingham; Mark N.K. Saunders, University of Birmingham Business School; Nicholas J. Wheeler, Department of Political Science and International Studies, Institute for Conflict, Cooperation and Security, University of Birmingham


This is a free online event organized by the Institute for Conflict Cooperation and Security. All are welcomed.

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