Inter-ethnic trust in the aftermath of mass violence: insights from large-N life histories

Marijke Verpoorten and Bert Ingelaere
IOB working paper 2016.03

We study the changes in inter-ethnic trust in Rwanda, in the period 1989-2011, bracketing genocide and other forms of violence. We rely on a combination of quantitative and narrative analysis of over 400 individual life histories in which inter-ethnic trust was systematically coded. We show that a huge decline in inter-ethnic trust at the time of violence was followed by a gradual recovery. We find the recovery to be nonlinear, thus not simply a matter of time, but responsive to three phenomena: major political events, policies that have a profound impact on the social tissue, and shifts in the societal narrative. The life story narratives indicate that these events, policies and shifting public discourse affect inter-ethnic trust by triggering affective and cognitive processes, i.e. a change in emotions or the updating of information and expectations. We compare the results with findings from Burundi where an identical research design was used.

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