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Governing life and the economy: The role of trust in the age of covid-19

During this seminar, Joelle Abi-Rached will explore a new project that attempts to analyse and clarify the role of trust in the management of the Covid epidemic and to investigate possible mechanisms that link trust to the performance of public health policies.

Event, Research Seminar


In this talk Joelle M. Abi-Rached go through an exploration of a new project that tries to analyze and debunk the role of trust in the Covid-19 pandemic as well as try to identify possible mechanisms that tie trust to the performance of countries at managing the crisis. Many countries have had to implement harsh lockdowns and face a trade-off between saving lives or saving their economies. However, when we compare GDP loss and mortality across countries, we are surprised to see that countries that have managed to save more lives also managed to save their economies. What accounts for these stark differences in country behaviors? One salient feature that characterizes the very successful countries that managed to keep mortality low while saving their economies from shutting down is the high trust these populations have in their governments. This trust can partly explain on the one hand the success of some public health strategies adopted by countries that acted rapidly (such as in Taiwan, Vietnam, South Korea or in the Nordic countries) and on the other hand the failure of others in managing the Covid crisis (such as Latin American countries, some Arab countries, the US, UK, France etc.). The talk will try to explore what this “trust” amounts to and how in the context of this pandemic the concept relates to the issues of “infodemic,” the lack of transparency regarding statistical data and the decision-making process, the lack of prevention, the declining trust in expertise and the collective amnesia in learning from past pandemics that Western countries suffer from in contrast to South Asian countries. 


Joelle M. Abi-Rached is currently a visiting researcher at the École normale supérieure and the École des hautes études en sciences sociales. Until recently, she was a member of the Society of Fellows in the Humanities at Columbia University. She was trained as a physician, philosopher and medical historian. Her research examines the politics of life and health and is at the intersection of history, philosophy, ethics, medicine and politics. She is the author of Neuro: The New Brain Sciences and the Management of the Mind (co-authored with Nikolas Rose and published by Princeton University Press in 2013). Her next book to be published in November by MIT press is ʿAṣfūriyyeh: A History of Madness, Modernity and War in the Middle East.

Practical information

Seminar open to all, by videoconference only.

Pre-registration required: register