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TU Berlin

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WU Xiujie, Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology

To trust or not to trust strangers? Social support among strangers reflected in the folk narratives of North China

Abstract

中文摘要:在构建和表述社会关系时,“陌生人”是一个无法回避的范畴。正因为如此,陌生人之间的社会互动也是理解特定社会中信任基础的一个核心概念。但是,在研究“陌生人之间的社会支持”这一主题时,社会人类学的参与观察方法就遭遇了明显的局限。本文试图另辟蹊径,借助于分析中国北方的民间叙事和谚语中的相关内容来解释信任陌生人的基本原则。在不同的情境下对陌生人的态度(人在旅途或者在家里,作为社会支持的接受者或者提供者)表明了在处理因遇到陌生人而引起的社会不确定感时人们的矛盾心态。出于人道基础上为陌生人提供的社会支持倾向于被看作是不期待回报的“无偿的礼物”。但是,在发展和维持与陌生人之间的信任关系时,普遍信任与“责任保证”二者缺一不可。从这个意义上,作者认为有可能从文化层面上分析信任形成的制度性机制具有怎样的关键性意义,而对信任的制度性机制的理解又有有助于解释当代社会中的“信任缺失”现象。

The concept of ‘stranger’ is generally an unavoidable category in the construction and articulation of social relationships. As such, social interactions among strangers are certainly a key to our understanding the basis of trust in a certain society. When we attempt to investigate the complex concept of ‘social support among strangers’, however, some of the limits of the social-anthropological method of ‘participant observation’ become apparent. This paper attempts, experimentally, to explain how the basic principles of trusting strangers are reflected in some folk narratives and proverbs in North China. Attitudes toward strangers under different circumstances (travelling on roads or at home, as the recipient or provider of social support) reveal paradoxical intuitions for coping with the social uncertainty caused by the encounter with strangers. Based on this analysis, I argue that providing social support to strangers in the humanitarian sense tends to be regarded by the provider as a ‘free gift’, without the anticipation of reciprocity. In developing and sustaining trustful relationships with strangers, however, individuals must be assured of the existence of both general trust and ‘commitment insurance’. In this sense, I suggest that it is possible to investigate the institutional mechanisms of establishing trust by analysing its cultural aspects, something that will also allow us to examine the phenomenon of ‘trust deficiency’ in contemporary Chinese society.

Keywords: strangeness, social support, trust, reciprocity, Chinese folk narratives

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