Trust has long been a central object of social scientific analysis, and is just as present in the wider public sphere where it is consistently invoked as a solution to the ills of political, economic and psychological life. Mistrust, in contrast, has rarely been analysed on its own terms. When it is discussed, it is often treated as little more than an absence or a failure of trust, a lack that simply needs to be overcome. It is, then, a doubly negative concept: negative in the technical sense that it is only defined as an absence of something else, and negative in that it is typically presented as a destructive or corrosive social force.
This special issue aims instead to establish mistrust as a legitimate object in its own right. Shifting between prudence, vigilance, doubt, suspicion and fear, mistrust structures countless social situations and interactions, but seems to remain a fundamentally slippery object. The articles presented here endeavour not to provide a precise definition of the phenomenon, but to describe its contours across a range of different contexts, eras and geographical cadres, and from a range of methodological and disciplinary perspectives (historical, anthropological, sociological, psychoanalytical). What they share is a desire to engage with mistrust as a structuring and perhaps necessary dimension of human and social relations.