The enormous financial losses during the economic crash in Iceland led to widespread anxieties, coupled with a deep sense of shared national disaster and moral collapse …
The enormous financial losses during the economic crash in Iceland led to widespread anxieties, coupled with a deep sense of shared national disaster and moral collapse (Bernburg, 2015; Ólafsson, 2014). The strong sense of betrayal indicates how economic processes are not only about economic prosperity, but are embedded also in wider societal discourses and a sense of national identity (Schwegler, 2009). We use perspectives from anthropology and cultural economics to ask how the lack of trust by the Icelandic population after the crash signals both a different way of visualising Iceland’s role within an increasingly global world and a changing sense of Icelanders as national subjects standing unified against foreigners. Iceland’s neo-liberalisation inserted the country into global institutions and processes with the faith that these processes would automatically be beneficial to Iceland. Furthermore, the sense of some kind of a unified Icelandic subject was manifested in the image of the ‘Business Viking’, which was seen as embodying the interest of the Icelandic nation as a whole. Following the economic crash, the betrayal of trust involved disrupting the idea of the ‘oneness’ of Iceland and thus, the sharp distinction between ‘us’ Icelanders and ‘those’ foreigners. In our discussion, we trace different ways of conceptualising this sense of Icelanders as a unified entity, asking what this notion means in terms of trust. Our research shows how the sense of ‘unified Icelanders’ was instrumental in creating the feeling of trust, and how it is possible to manipulate and appropriate that trust.
This chapter examines the formal governance mechanisms put in place by various authorities within Iceland after the crash. In contrast to one of our earlier papers (Bryant, Sigurjónsson, & Mixa, 2014), we find that, no matter how well the mechanisms work, formal mechanisms are insufficient to restore trust. To that end, we examine the trust literature from political science that suggests that trust is a lubricant of the social system that consequently causes individuals to open themselves up to vulnerability. When trust is broken in a society with a high-existing degree of trust, such as Iceland, the loss of trust is significant and leads even apparently minor incidents to be perceived as betrayals. We examine the various processes put in place by both the government and other institutions and show how they mostly worked in concert. Nonetheless, we find that the processes by themselves have been insufficient to restore society’s trust in the affected institutions.