Institutt for sosialantropologi

Why is intimacy so closely associated with trust and harmonious relationships when domestic bliss is so hard to come by?

This weekend a group of anthropologists gather in Bergen to discuss this question at the workshop “The Entangled Tensions of Intimacy, Trust and the Social”. It is hosted by Professor Vigdis Broch-Due and researcher Margit Ystanes, both members of the Poverty Politics research group at the Department of Social Anthropology, University of Bergen.


In anthropology, the notion of intimacy is widely associated with reciprocity and trust – indeed, with the safe haven of the kinship group, family or community. Whether this notion of intimacy accurately represents what goes on in close relationships in any context is rarely explored, but nevertheless a frequently unquestioned premise in recent liberal theories of trust. As ancient myths, works of fiction and feminist critique have long reminded us, however, the most intimate relations can also be deeply troubling and difficult, even violent. For example, Scandinavian playwrights such as Henrik Ibsen and August Strindberg have famously depicted family life as fraught with suffocating and unrealistic expectations, dark secrets, deception and handed-down personal flaws. Similar insights frequently surfaces in ethnographic studies of for example witchcraft, kinship, gender, morality and the self in many parts of the world, but these findings have not lead to a critical debate on the notion of intimacy in anthropology.

Our understanding of intimacy and trust is therefore limited and leaves much to be explored. It is curious, for example, that the Scandinavian societies – so famous for literary critiques of traditional family life – are where we find the highest levels of both social and personal trust. In Latin American societies, in contrast, well known for a strong idealisation of the family as a locus of trust and intimacy, levels of social and personal trust are significantly lower. This disconnect between “common sense” understandings of intimacy and the conditions for trust, and what actually happens in many societies, represents a riddle that can only be answered by comparative ethnographic explorations of different notions of self, intimacy, kinship, sociality and trust, as well as their entanglements in the production and reproduction of social orders.

Why, for example, does trust appear to find so much more fertile ground in the Scandinavian context than in others, where the very site where trust is supposedly produced – the family – is more strongly idealised? How is trust and mistrust, produced in specific contexts? What is the role of intimacy in these processes? How is intimacy conceptualised, and what kinds of relationships does it make sense to characterise as intimate? What is the connection between the intimate or personal, and the public, when it comes to the conditions for trust in a society? These are some of the questions to be debated at this weekend’s workshop, with the aim of enhancing our knowledge on the relationships between intimacy, trust and the social.


For further information about the workshop, follow this link

Workshop participants

Cecilia McCallum, PPGA & Departamento de Antropologia, Universidade Federal da Bahia

Gloria Goodwin Raheja, Department of Anthropology, University of Minnesota

Jennifer M. Speirs, Centre for Research on Families and Relationships, University of Edinburgh

Jessica Jemima Mzamu, Department of Social Anthropology, University of Bergen

Parker Shipton, Department of Anthropology, Boston University

Paula Haas, Department of Social Anthropology, University of Cambridge

Peter Geschiere, Amsterdam Institute for Social Science Research, University of Amsterdam

Radhika Chopra, Department of Sociology, University of Delhi

Reshma Bharadwaj, Department of Social Anthropology, University of Bergen

Froukje Krijtenburg, Department of Social and Cultural Anthropology, VU University Amsterdam

Chris Kaplonski, Mongolia & Inner Asia Studies Unit, University of Cambridge

Thor Erik Sortland, Department of Social Anthropology, University of Bergen

Amrik Heyer, FDS Kenya