The actor-dimension of institutional-based trust

2014-04-03-trust -
Trust. Photo:

An unsettled issue in academia is how institutions form the basis for trust-relations. Based on a summary of studies of institutional-based trust, ISE researcher Lars Fuglsang and Søren Jagd argue that “sensemaking may serve as a bridge between institutional contexts and interpersonal trust processes”. It is further argued that institutions are rather ‘emerging’ than ‘impacting’.

Trust is by cognitive scientist Paul Lewicki defined as “confident positive expectations regarding another’s conduct”, while institutions by sociologist William Richard Scott are defined as “cognitive, normative and regulative structures and activities that provide stability and meaning to social behavior”. Sensemaking is by organizational theorist Karl Edward Weick defined as “ongoing retrospective development of plausible images that rationalize what people are doing”.

These definitions are the point of departure for a discussion and argument in the article called “Making sense of institutional trust in organizations: bridging institutional context and trust”, focusing on the actor-dimension of this.

Two ways of linking institutions, trust and action
The question of how actors relate to institutions can be reframed by comparing it to the more general micro-macro problem in sociology.

The article concludes by doing this that actions and tools that are of a more local nature, and not highly institutionalized, play an important role in the understanding of interpersonal trust processes between actors and institutions: “institutions are one, albeit an important, element among a broader set of contextual elements that may be important to interpersonal trust processes”.

It is on this background, that the writers argue that the sensemaking perspective is a particularly fruitfull approach for linking the interpersonal trust to the institutional context.

Trust at a textile factory: A case study revisited
To explore how sensemaking practically works in a turbulent institutional environment, Lars Fuglsang and Søren Jagd revisits an ethnographic case study of trust between Israeli and Jordanian managers in a Jordanian textile factory. The case study “illustrates how the institutional context is enacted and emerges through sensemaking leading to the formation of specific types of trust-relations”.

In the case study, 2,500 employees in a Jordanian textile factory in the case study struggled to make sense and developed calculative as well as normative trust in very different ways before and after the Intifada in 2000 – which is seen as two different political environments.

The case study demonstrates that trust-relations change when actors try to make sense of changes in their political and social context and review their trust strategies according to it.
*The article is one of the results of a research network called Nordforsk.

*The full article can be purchased here