Understanding how global rises in inequality are affecting governance regimes across the world is a critical question to the social sciences today. Existing literature has revealed a consistently negative association between inequality and the quality of governance institutions. Several studies have shown that sustained rises in economic inequality have driven significant historical political changes, from revolutions to regimes changes and political violence. However, knowledge about the causal effects of inequality on governance is surprisingly limited. This project seeks to provide new theoretical insights and empirical evidence on how trust within and between social groups and towards institutions shapes the relationship between economic inequality and governance in contexts where democratic structures may be unstable or under threat. Trust is central to understanding the effects of inequality on governance because the way people have confidence in others and beliefs about the legitimacy of governance institutions shape political and social behaviour and mobilization patterns among different groups. The project is organized around three thematic areas: (i) how trust within and between social groups and towards governance institutions emerges and evolves in contexts of rising inequality; (ii) how trust in unequal societies shapes governance outcomes through two intervening factors – political behaviour and social mobilization; and (iii) the pathways through which changes in such intervening factors may sometimes result in inclusive governance outcomes, but in the breakdown of governance at other times. Each of these areas will incorporate detailed theoretical and empirical analyses at the subnational level in four countries – Colombia, Mozambique, Pakistan and Spain – affected by rising inequalities and chosen to represent a spectrum of challenges to democratic structures. UNU-WIDER will lead on the Mozambique case study.The project seeks to address three key questions:
1. How do different forms of trust change and relate to each other in contexts of rising or persistent inequalities?
2. What intervening factors determine how trust in unequal contexts shapes governance outcomes?
3. What are the pathways through which changes in such intervening factors may sometimes result in inclusive democracy but in the breakdown of governance at other times?
The project will develop new theory and collect new comparative data using individual-level surveys, behavioural experiments, and archival data to better understand how inequalities and trust have evolved across time to shape the governance outcomes we observe today. This will contribute towards the achievement of SDG 16, Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions. It will also include research on trust during pandemics using results from a survey on COVID-19.
Upon the launch of the UNU-WIDER Work Programme 2019-2023 the research programme was divided into 6 flagship projects. Two years into the work programme these flagships have matured into several standalone project, of which “Inequality and governance in unstable democracies – the mediating role of trust” originally under “Capable states - building the foundations for achieving SDGs” is one. As of 1 January 2021, this project will be included in Pelikan as its own entry.