Asser Strategic Research Agenda

International & European law as a source of trust in a hyper-connected world

The Asser Strategic Research Agenda (ASRA) ‘International & European law as a source of trust in a hyper-connected world’ (2016-2020) examines how law as one of the social institutions can contribute to the construction and cultivation of trust and trusting relations needed for cooperation in this large and hyper-connected world.

In the words of Tobias Asser, ‘law serves primarily to cultivate trust.’ This goes first of all to traditional legal values, such as coherence, consistency, predictability, legal certainty, and justice or fairness, and their positive impact reconciling public and private interests. At the turn of the 20th century, Asser articulated this vision for the world of states and actively contributed to the development of an international order that defined certain values as its normative foundation, created law on that basis, and established institutions to uphold these values and norms. But today’s world is incomparable to the one of Asser’s time. Since the 1990s, global connectivity, i.e. the digital connectedness of people (or rather their digital devices) through information and communication technologies (ICT), the Internet, and social media networks, have expanded exponentially. This has elevated significantly the economic, social, and political interconnectedness and interdependency worldwide.

The world is more connected and interdependent than ever, and the most urgent problems of our time - be they climate change, (social) inequality and exclusion, or terrorism - require truly global approaches. Global migration has brought diversity in the world’s cities to new a level; cultural diversity both enriches and challenges urban life; the condition capitaliste may be a driving force behind the growing global inter-connectedness, but it also earns highly critical responses. Ever increasing global connectedness is transforming our social, political, economic, and cultural-ideational world profoundly, changing our overall sense of community and the common good. Hyper-connectedness affects the human sense of time and place: the world is both shrinking and expanding, familiar and alien, highly complex and often unpredictable. It renders the global and the local inseparable. This in turn exposes differences in pace, giving rise to frictions but also to fruitful interactions. Linking the local and global intensifies the dilemmas, uncertainties, and risks that come with globalisation and modernity. It elevates questions of (social) inequality and redistribution of wealth, (youth) unemployment and business competitiveness, social inclusion and exclusion, counter-terrorism and organised crime, and environmental pollution to a global level. Within this hyper-connected and variegated world, the construction and cultivation of trust is difficult, but crucial.

To be sure, this is not to subscribe to what Onora O’Neill calls the false - yet currently rather popular - narrative in public discourse that ‘trust is in decline, we need more trust, we have to rebuild trust.’ Indeed, such a regressive approach of trust is to be avoided. Society is not in need of more trust tout court, as O’Neill argues, it is in need of well-placed trust and well-placed mistrust. This said, trusting relations - not only between individuals but also between for example states or institutions - work better. When differences in views, values and/or interests start producing tensions, dissonance, and variances in pace, trusting relations assist actors to behave with reciprocity and respect. And, ‘[w]ith our fates ever more entwined, our future must be one of ever deeper cooperation’ to face up to today’s global challenges.

In the ASRA, the Asser institute’s research is structured along three research strands and an architrave. The latter deals with more general conceptual questions about trust, trustworthiness, and trust-building effects of international and European law fostering the overarching, more abstract and loosely defined normative framework. The three strands are separate but mutually interlinked:

Programme leader: Prof. Dr Janne Nijman

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Asser Strategic Research Agenda 2016-2020 DEF.pdf