Affectivity, expertise, and inequality: three foundations of trust in education. Reflections on presuppositions, (unintended) consequences, and possible alternatives

Book chapter

Farini, F. 2011. Affectivity, expertise, and inequality: three foundations of trust in education. Reflections on presuppositions, (unintended) consequences, and possible alternatives. in: Mica, A., Peisert, A. and Winczorek, J. (ed.) Sociology and the unintended: Robert Merton revisited Frankfurt am Main Peter Lang.
Chapter titleAffectivity, expertise, and inequality: three foundations of trust in education. Reflections on presuppositions, (unintended) consequences, and possible alternatives
AuthorsFarini, F.

Niklas Luhmann (1988) draws a basic distinction between two notions which both emerge in the context of familiarity: confidence and trust. Both confidence and trust refer to expectations which may be disappointed, but while confidence does not involve disappointment as an expectation, trust presupposes an attribution of risk about the possibility of disappointment.
According to Luhmann, in the modern functionally differentiated society, individuals must be confident in the most important social subsystems because there are expectations towards these systems (e.g. economics, politics, the laws, science, families, education etc.) which cannot be avoided. Trust concerns only those specific subsystems’ activities which participants can retreat from, while the subsystems themselves cannot stop working. However, lack of trust in internal activities can affect confidence inside these social systems: it is possible to observe that, while individuals participating in their internal processes cannot retreat from them, they can lose confidence in their effectiveness, and this can reduce their effectiveness in society. Disappointment is produced in these systems at the expense of confidence.
In the education system, students must be confident in the education system and they cannot avoid participating in its internal processes. However, they may lack trust in specific educational activities, above all those involving educators and classmates. This lack of trust can create lack of confidence in the education system, in particular children’s marginalization and self-marginalization in educational communication, with a consequent reduction of effectiveness of education in society. The avoidance of taking trust risks (Luhmann 1988) activates a vicious circle: it implies loosing possibilities of students’ action in the system, reducing their preparation to risk trust, and activating anxiety and suspect for interlocutors’ actions. Consequently, in the education system it is particularly important to encourage the risk of trust in order to avoid risks for confidence. Trust must be assured through strategies which reduce the risk of not risking trust.
According to Anthony Giddens (1990), trust can be enhanced in two ways in modern society: (1) trough expertise and technological systems, (2) through interpersonal affective relationships. In the education system, expertise is generally considered the main source of trust as adults are hold to be the experts (teachers, educators), those who must be trusted for their knowledge and competence. However, since the end of the Forties, psychologists like Carl Rogers (1951) have suggested that expertise is not the sole means to activate trust. In this perspective, teachers themselves should not simply be confident in their own expertise. Rather they should trust interpersonal affective relationships with students, listening to their personal expressions and supporting them empathically.
Our contribution addresses the issue of trust in educational system and particularly the following questions: which is the role of experts in creating trust among students? Can the system create trust beyond through interpersonal closeness, beyond trust in technical expertise?
These questions are addressed through an empirical analysis of videotaped educational interactions. The analysis focuses on the controversial importance of expertise and interpersonal closeness in building trust in education. Our aim is to examine, identify and highlight the design of educators’ actions that can support different forms of students’ trusting commitment. The analysis of the interactions, which is shown here, is particularly useful in highlighting those types of empirical actions which can promote trust in communication processes between educators and students and among students.

Research GroupCentre for Education Research and Scholarship (CERS)
Interpreting and Translation group
Book titleSociology and the unintended: Robert Merton revisited
EditorsMica, A., Peisert, A. and Winczorek, J.
PublisherPeter Lang
Place of publicationFrankfurt am Main
SeriesPolish Studies in Culture, Nations and Politic
Publication dates
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Deposited11 Jul 2013
Output statusPublished
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This is a final draft post-refereeing version

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