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Rational Trust in Rural Malawi

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Type: Conference Paper
Author: Bjornstad, Sverre
Conference: Governing Shared Resources: Connecting Local Experience to Global Challenges, the Twelfth Biennial Conference of the International Association for the Study of Commons
Location: Cheltenham, England
Conf. Date: July 14-18, 2008
Date: 2008
URI: https://hdl.handle.net/10535/857
Sector: Social Organization
Water Resource & Irrigation
Region: Africa
Subject(s): rural development
Abstract: "Most research on trust highlights its importance as a lubricating mechanism of great importance to cooperation. Unfortunately, most of this research seems to be limited to western organizations. This paper takes another direction as it concerns why people fail to trust each other within a borehole and irrigation project in rural Malawi. The focus is mainly why the motivations to trust seems to be absent for certain contexts. I have taken the standpoint that these motivations are rational; people will only place trust when they perceive the chance to gain higher than the losses. That is contrary to the view of trust as generally found in any society. Not to say that a general trust is unimportant or absent, but the final decision is always taken on rational grounds related to the specific situation and agents concerned. Durkheim and the division of labour in society serve to explain part of this phenomenon, whereby a more general organic and mechanic solidarity could serve as tools for expectations of trustworthiness - but it is the assessment of gains and losses which finally decides whether one choose to place trust or not. The question is then why the participants in the borehole and irrigation project found the losses to exceed the gains, not only in material terms, but also for personal reasons. The paper is based on data collected in conjunction with the Malawian Land Tenure and Social Capital project (University of Malawi/ Norwegian Institute of Urban and Regional Research) A sample of participants in the borehole and irrigation project were interviewed while others took part in public goods games - facing dilemmas similar to those found in the cooperation projects. Central here is not the results in particular, but rather the motivations to invest and how that differed according to the various groups playing."

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