Theme of the conference

Bulgarian Sociological Association (BSA) as the leading partner in collaboration with the national sociological associations of Romania, Serbia and Northern Macedonia initiate a regional conference on the topic of Trust and Well-Being in the Balkans, aiming to provide forum for comparative analysis, based on the data and findings of the European Social Survey.

The European Social Survey (ESS) is an academically initiated, cross-national study, conducted every two years since 2001 with the support of the European Commission and the European Science Foundation. The BSA initiative for such a conference is supported by the ESS consortium (letter of support attached).

The Balkans region presents a complex picture of similarities and differences, the intertwining of histories and projects for the future, that challenges us to use the resources of comparative data and findings to outline new research approaches and sociological understandings of the region.

It is an intellectual challenge not only to analyze concepts such as well-being and trust, but above all to relate subjective feelings of well-being (personal and social) with our trust in people and institutions. ESS data show that there is a connection between trust in institutions, the legitimacy of democracy and a personal sense of well-being. It is in this perspective that the analysis of problems with comparative data from the Balkans and other European regions could open possibilities for the development of important theoretical accounts; for better understanding of the processes of democracy building in this region (each country faces specific challenges); for the formulation of more effective public policies. In this sense, the conference aims to hold a high-level academic and research forum, but at the same time to retain the aim of public sociology, i.e. to participate in the formulation of public policies.

However, the issue of the relationship between trust and well-being is not only interesting in the Balkans perspective. Contemporary societies – which we often describe as ‘individualized’, ‘fragmented’ and ‘accelerated’ (see: Beck, Ulrich 1992. Risk Society; Beck, Ulrich & A. Giddens, C. Lash (eds.) 1994. Reflexive Modernization; Hartmut, Rosa 2015. Social Acceleration, etc.) – appear to be at risk of losing the secret of social bonding. The persistent criticism of democracy and public institutions, the blocking of reforms, the waves of increasing support for more radical political alternatives are all symptoms of a complex process of undermining social confidence that, we argue, is gradually eroding the sense of personal well-being. That is why we would like the conference to put not only regional, but also global problems in focus in order to propose theoretical interpretations and new approaches through which social trust and well-being can be examined. To achieve this, the organizing committee will invite two keynote speakers – to inspire academic debate, presenting the latest academic concepts on the issues described. Their travel and accommodation costs will be fully covered by the ISA grant.

Beyond its academic and research goals, the conference also aims to become a platform for strengthening a regional research network. BSA has already gained experience in this direction. In 2011, the Balkan Sociological Forum was formed and managed to organize 3 regional conferences and meetings until 2014, when its practical operations did not continue. With this conference we will try on the one hand to activate the then created network, but on the other, to expand it and orient it towards joint sociological research in order to guarantee its sustainability through collaboration. Our second cause, therefore, is to invest efforts in expanding and deepening research networks in the region.