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A Characterization of Trust, and Its Consequences

Author(s): Jack Barbalet

Source: Theory and Society, Vol. 38, No. 4, Special Issue: Emotion and Rationality in Economic
Life (Jul., 2009), pp. 367-382
Published by: Springer
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TheorSoc (2009) 38:367-382
DOI 10.1007/slll86-009-9087-3

A characterization
of trust,and its consequences


Publishedonline:24 April2009
SpringerScience+ BusinessMedia B.V. 2009

AbstractTrustis understood in termsof a) acceptanceof dependency in b) the

absenceof information abouttheother'sreliability
in orderto c) createan outcome
otherwiseunavailable.The first
oftheseis thecostoftrust;thesecond,thesituation
of uncertaintyit faces and may overcome;the third,its purchase.This account
permits:distinctionbetweentrustand similarrelationswithwhichit is frequently
confused;discoveryof the basis of trustin the emotionalapprehensionof
confidence;and demonstration of the relationshipbetweentrustand bothsocial
capitaland rationality, results.

Thevalueoftrust is especially apparenttothosewhofaceimprobity anddeception.Yet

offers no protection againstthese.Organization, beforetrust, to
relationshipsandtherefore increases certainty inandthuspredictabilityofevents.Thus
organization mayreducerelianceontrust as a meansofachieving an agreedordesired
outcome.Butorganization is an imperfect mechanism forrealizinga purposeorgoal.
Organizations cannotcontrol their ownenvironments, norcantheynecessarily manage
theinternaldevelopments thatmayresult from changeinthoseenvironments. Forsome
purposesandinsomesituations, inordertoachieveanoutcome
therefore, otherwisenot
available,itis necessary thata personsimply trustanother.
Hereinlaystheimportance oftrust:'Without thegeneraltrust thatpeoplehavein
each other,societyitselfwould disintegrate, forveryfewrelationships are based
entirelyupon whatis knownwithcertainty aboutanotherperson,and veryfew
relationships wouldendureiftrustwerenotas strongas, or stronger than,rational
proofor personalobservation' (Simmel1978: 178-9). Trust,then,is a meansof
overcoming the absenceof evidence,withoutbenefitof the standardof rational
proof,whichis requiredto sustainrelationships betweenpersonsor betweena
personand a social artifact, including money,forinstance, theobjectof Simmel's
discussionfromwhichtheabovequotation is taken.Thesepositiveattributes

SociologyDepartment,Schoolof Social Sciences,Bankstown
Universityof Western
Sydney,PO Box 1797,Penrith SthDC, NSW 1797,Australia

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368 TheorSoc (2009) 38:367-382

indicatewhyitis unavoidablein socialrelationships. Butthereis a negativeattribute

also, whichmeans that trustcannotbe taken for granted. Trustis precariousinsofar
as the act of trusting rendersthe actorvulnerableto deceptionor worse. In
attemptingto overcomeuncertainty trustgeneratesriskof betrayal. Anyaccountof
trustmustdeal withbothsidesof it.
Because of the significance of trustto social relations,and the intellectually
compelling natureof itscomplexity,thetermattracts frequentanddisparate use. The
ShorterOxfordDictionary, forinstance,listssixteenseparatemeaningsof trust.
Even withinthesociologicalliterature, as we shall see, thereis muchconceptual
Thesemakedifficult notonlya sociologically meaningful characterization
of trust,
butalso add to theproblemsof developinga theoryof trustadequatefor
empiricalresearch.It is possible,however,to abstract corecharacteristicsof trust.
The following discussionoutlinesan accountofthenatureoftrust thatwillindicate
thebasis of trustin termsof theparticular emotionsthrough whichit is uniquely
facilitated, will identifythemechanisms of its operations.The strength of the
formulation concerningthe emotional basis of trustis demonstrated by
applyingitto therelationship betweentrustand socialcapitalon theone hand,and
trustand rationalityon theother,withcounterintuitive resultsin each case.

A characterisation
of trust

Trustis variouslydefinedin termsof thebenefits itprovides(cooperation, political

cohesion,reliability, social order,etc.),or the dispositions of thosewho give trust
(affective,calculative,moral,pragmatic, etc.),or thecharacter of therelationship
betweenthe trustingand the putativelytrustworthy (contractual,dependent,
exploitative,reciprocal,etc.). The importance of trustto social relationships and
exchanges, and thereforeitswide and
application appeal, means that experience it
will be variedand thatnotonlyin commonusage butin specialistliteratures the
termwill have multiplemeanings.Nevertheless, and just because trustis so
important to socialrelationships, itsgeneralformis robustanddistinguishable. This
formcan be represented in threecharacteristic elements.
Most treatments definetrustin termsof a confidentexpectationregarding
another'sbehavior.We shall see thatthiscoversonlyhalfof its mechanism as it
leaves out theessentialcomponent of a self-referentialconfidence in thesubject's
ownjudgementor appraisalof theother'squalities.Ratherthanbeginwithwhat
trustprovides, we shallbeginwithwhattrustcosts.It was indicated abovethattrust
may required to achieve an outcome in the absence or failureof organization.As
organization is a means of or
regulating controlling it
relationships,might be inferred
thattrustis an alternative meansofcontrol. Thisis notthecase: becauseofthetime
intervalbetweenA's givingtrustto B and B's actions,A's trustgrantscontrolor
power B. Trustmusttherefore
to be characterized as dependency and,in operative
terms,it is a dispositionon the partof the trustgiverto acceptdependenceon
another (Luhmann1979: 15,22, 81; Rousseauet al. 1998:395). It is implicit in this
statement thatan actof trustentailsthepossibility of theother'sdefection fromthe
relationship or the exploitation of thetrustgiver,forrelationsof dependenceare
inherently asymmetrical.

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TheorSoc (2009) 38:367-382 369

It can onlybe knownwhether thevulnerability of trustwill lead to a negative

outcome, such as the of
breaking trust, after trusthas been given(Luhmann1979:
25; Giddens 1990: In
33). generalterms, the correctness ofanyactoftrustcan only
be determined by whether the trustis honored, an event necessarily posterior to the
act of trusting itself.A secondcharacteristic elementof trust, then,is thattrustcan
neverbe based on pertinent knowledge. This key attribute of trust is frequently
circumvented in the literature by attemptsto calibratetrustin termsof the
trustworthiness oftheother.We shallreturn belowto theirrelevance ofthequalities
oftheotherforan understanding oftrust, eventhoughnotnecessarily fortheagent's
rationalization forherreasonstotrust. A secondpossiblequalification ofthefactthat
trustis necessarily givenin theabsenceof pertinent knowledgeis to converttrust
intoa formoffaith, evensimilarto religiousfaith(Mollering 2001). Butrecourseto
faithis no solutionto the problemthattrustcan neverbe based on pertinent
knowledge. This lattercharacteristic resultsfromthefactthattrustis a strategy for
overcominguncertainty, and while faith may be one means of dealing with
uncertainty trustdrawsuponanother, to be outlinedbelow.
Thattrustis notbased on pertinent knowledgeand thatit is a formof action,
evidenceforthecorrectness ofwhichis onlyavailableafterthetrust hasbeengiven,
are connectedwitha thirdcharacteristic element,namely thattrust bridgesthe
present and the future (Luhmann 1979: 10, 25). That is, trustis necessarilyan
anticipation of a futureoutcome if
that, successful, it creates. Trust facilitates
realizesoutcomesthatcould not occurwithoutthe givingof trust.This creative
attribute oftrustmakessenseoftheothertwo.The creativecapacityoftrustmeans
thatit is indifferent to an evidentiary foundation, hencethe secondcharacteristic
elementof trust.The cost of trustin thevulnerability of thetrustgiver,thefirst
element mentioned above, is thepurchaseprice of a future thatwouldotherwise not
be achieved,a notioncapturedin Luhmann 's statement that"Thisproblemof time
[attempting to makecertainan unknowable future] is bridgedbytrust, paid aheadof
timeas an advanceon success"(Luhmann1979: 25).

Variationson a theme:trustor trustee

Thecharacterizationoftrust,as constituted
byasymmetry ofdependence on another,
theabsenceof pertinent knowledgeconcerning the other'sfutureactions,and the
bridging of timeby anticipatinga future
that is realizedor createdby a successful
exerciseoftrust,does notexhaustitsattributes.It does,though,offersomebasison
whichto indicatea meaningful distinction
betweentrustand associatedphenomena
thatappeartobe similarto trustbutthatcannotbe properly bya theory
explicated of
trustunderstoodin termsof the elementsoutlinedabove. For instance,this
conceptualizationof trustmustbe distinguished fromthenotionof "generalized"
or "pervasivesocial trust"thatis no morethana broad attitudeof acceptance
directedtowardinstitutionsandpersonswithout regardto directexchangesbetween
them.The issuehereis notthattrustdoes notobtainbetweenpersonsandcollective
forof courseit does,butthata confusion
entities, of trustwithlegitimacy,say,or
loyalty only obstructa account
satisfactory of trust.
Explanatory theoryis not
advancedby makingone keyconceptdo theworkof many.

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370 TheorSoc (2009) 38:367-382

This concerncan be demonstrated by considering such notionsas "trustin

abstract systems" (Giddens 1990: 83-8), "system trust" (Luhmann1979:22, 88-9),
trustas a "prerequisite of order"(Misztal1996:26-32), and so on. Use of theterm
"trust"in thesecontextsdoes not violatecommonusage and indeedcontinuesa
tradition of classicalliberalthought fromJohnLocke,in whichtrustis connected
withliberty. Closerconsideration, however, indicatesthata broadconceptualization
oftrust, as an orientation towardsacceptanceofsocialandpoliticalorganization and
also varioustypesof knowledgeor information systems,may more usefullybe
describedby otherterms.
When it is asked whethercitizenstrusttheirgovernment, for instance,the
question concerns legitimacy(belief that the government the rightto do
something), performance (beliefthat economic growth, social welfare,or some
othereconomicor socialgood mightresultfromparticular practicesorpolicies).To
theextentthatthiscan additionally be a questionof trusttouchesprocedural rather
thansubstantive issues and corresponds withthe problemof the principal-agent
relationship inwhichone actson behalfofanother eventhoughtherearedifferences
of interest and inequalities of information betweenthem.Whiletheprincipal-agent
problemis a concernof economicand publicenterprise literatures(Grossmanand
Hart 1983; Rees 1985; but see also Shapiro1987), its originis in the Lockean
conceptualization of the relationshipbetweengovernments and governedas
trusteeship (Locke 1963: 348-350). These relationships generalraise issues
concerning sustainability and effectiveness of(implicit) contractratherthanthose
of trustin termsof thethreecharacteristics outlinedabove.The difference between
trustas itis understood hereand"systemtrust" is clearin thedifferent relation each
has to action.
If itis to be meaningful, trustmakesa difference to howa personacts.By giving
trust to another an actorengagesin an activity thatwouldotherwise notbe available,
or mayseek to achievea goal or outcomethatwouldotherwise notbe attainable.
Trust, then,is one formofaccessto enablingrelationships, andeventhoughthetrust
giver dependent in such the
relationships, dependency is acceptedin orderto
actively achieve or create an outcome. "System trust," on the otherhand,and the
(implicit) contract it assumes, provokes the action of individuals notin itsoperation
but only when it breaksdown. This conclusionis implicitin Susan Shapiro's
discussionof "impersonaltrust"in which,afterindicatingthe ways in which
"structural opportunities" advantageagentsagainsttheprincipalson whosebehalf
theyputatively act, she declares: "Hence,theproblemoftrust" (Shapiro1987:630).
In Locke's classicaccount,indeed,breachof trusteeship is indicatedas a basis of
action,fora properly functioning trusteeactsforthosesubjectto it and a trustee's
default justifies - indeedrequires - theremedialactionofthosewhohadreliedupon
it (Locke 1963: 459-^62).
Consideration of whether professionals mightbe trusted, whatGiddenscalls the
"facelesscommitments" thatcharacterize "trust in abstract systems" (Giddens1990:
83-8), typicallyconcernbeliefsaboutthe adequacyof a knowledgebase or its
application,because these are the groundson whichprofessionals instruct lay
personson theirbest interests and how satisfaction of thoseinterests mightbe
achieved.A keyelementof suchsituations is thefiduciary obligationthatputatively
attachesto expertise as a societalnorm(Barber1983: 14-17). The obverseof such

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TheorSoc (2009) 38:367-382 371

an obligation, on thepartof thosewho receiveprofessional services,is confidence

thatitwillbe honored.But ifsuchconfidence werebetrayed, itis notthejudgment
oftheconfidence-giver thatis brought intodoubt,as wouldbe thecase ifthiswere
an instanceof trust, as we shallsee below,butthecompetence or rectitude of the
professional provider. Trust in professionals and other purveyors of abstract systems
is anotherformof (implicit)contractin whichthereis an assumedor ascribed
trusteeship. If the knowledgebase of such systemswere morediffuseand their
serviceswere paid forwithoutthird-party intervention, such as the stateor an
insurer,then the language of themarket rather than trustwould be morereadilyseen
toapply.In thatcase,reference tomarket confidence, which is entirely appropriate to
thesecircumstances, would not lead to any assumptions a
concerning necessary
continuityof "confidence"with "trust."Trust may assume confidence,but
confidence does notimplytrust.I considerthisrelationship morefullybelow.
Another commonplace use of the term "trust" that similarly failsto includemuch
of thesubstanceof trust,as it is specifiedhere,is theidea of trustas a sense of
personal reliance and securitybetween persons,typicallyrooted in family
experience, although possiblyextending to thosewho,as Locke says,"have some
Acquaintance Friendship together" (Locke 1963: 383). Thisis trustas thebasis
of "ontologicalsecurity"(Giddens1990: 92-100). It is of interest thatCharles
HortonCooleyclassicallyindicatesthatsuchan outcomeresultsfromexperience in
primary groups, but finds no need to describe the phenomenon as trust and failsto
referto thetermat all in thiscontext, preferring instead"sympathy" (Cooley 1964).
The notionof trustas thereliability of othersin face-to-face and possiblyintimate
associations refers to an aspectofrelationships thatis morecompletely describedin
otherterms.The senseof assurancein relationships, of the"trustworthiness" of the
other,strictly speakingdisplaces the need for trust. The apparent paradox of this last
statement derivesfroma linguistic slidein whichtheword"trust" refers to boththe
precariousness of relying on another and theassurancefeltby therecipient of such
reliance.The latterstatemelds into one of securityof personalclosenessthat
psychoanalytically could be describedas identification withthe other.To have or
possess the trust of another in thissense is quite distinct from, evenopposedto,the
uncertain andprecarious dependence on another that is core to trust as a sociologically
interesting The
phenomenon. increasing use of the term "trust" in the contextof
familialand intimate relationships indicates the degree to which theyhave been
undermined by insecurities fostered by extrinsic forces, predominantly market values.
Trustincludesonlythoseasymmetrically dependent relations in which a person's
expectation of another's contribution to therealization of an outcomeotherwise not
available is formedin the absence of confirming evidence concerningtheir
reliability.Thus termssuch as "anticipatory trust"(Sztompka1999: 27, 100) are
redundant. The apparentbasis on which trustis given is necessarilyvarious,
including, forinstance, theother'sreputation, appearance, pastperformance, expert
qualification certification, as well as siruational rulegovernance, availability of
negativesanctions, and so on. But it is a mistake to distinguish types of trustin terms
of theformsof imputedtrustworthiness, as someauthorsattempt (Sztompka1999:
70-97). If trustworthiness were the efficacious condition of trust, thentrustwould
not be the problemit is. Trustcannotbe characterized in termsof its present
conditions, includingthequalitiesof others,butonlyin termsof thetrustgiver's

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372 TheorSoc (2009) 38:367-382

expectations oftheother'sfuture behavior.Claimsto trustworthiness arepartofthe

contextin whichtrustis given,notitsbasis.Theseproblems oftheone-sidedness of
trustare notdissolvedin cases of mutualor reciprocal trust(Coleman1990: 306-
310; Rose-Ackerman 2001: 535-8), whichare simplymirrored in it insofaras now
thetrustgiveris simultaneously a trust-taker,andvice versa.
The necessarycharacteristics of trust,namelytheasymmetry of dependenceon
another,the absence of pertinentknowledgeconcerning the other's future actions,
andthebridging oftimethrough trustin attempting to realizea future anticipated by
thetrustgiver,all pointin one direction, namelyto theuncertainty thattrustfaces.
Uncertainty is inherent in systemsof actionas any given actionchangesthe
conditions ofall future
actions.Uncertainty, then,is notovercomewithtimebutis a
condition oftimeorrather temporality: the distinction betweena knownpresent and
unknowablefuture. Because trustis necessarily given in advance of its outcome,
information regarding thatoutcome,includingthe reliability of the other,their
effectiveness andtrustworthiness,simplydoes notexistandcannotbe inferred from
existingknowledge. And yet the act of trust is a solution to the problemof
uncertainty by anticipating an unknowable future. The relationshipbetween
uncertainty and riskcannot be treatedhere (see Knight1964)exceptto acknowledge
thatsociologicalaccountsof modernity regardtrustas a means of negotiating
societalrisk(Giddens1990; Giddens1994) so thatrisktakeson the formof an
historicallyconditioned uncertainty. The "risk"of facingan unknowable future is
nevertakenincompleteignorance, however. It is knownthata senseofcertainty can
be achievedthrough organization, contract,sanctions,incentives, and so on. But
thesecannotbe bases of trust.

The basis of trust

The provisionof trustcomprises an instanceof whatWilliamJamescalls a forced

option, a situation in which there is no possibilityof notchoosing(James1956: 3):
either A trustsB to achieveC, or A cannothaveC. Thereis no positionoutsidethis
alternative.Onepossibility, then,is thatA might choosenottohaveC rather thantrust
B, thatis,A mistrusts B. Another possibility,because trustitselfoffersno guarantees,
is thatA trusts B, butbecauseB is inadequate, C is notachieved.In thiscase A has a
misplacedtrustof B. Another possibilityis thatA's trustingB advantages B at A's
expense and A does notachieve C; A has a betrayed trust
of B. In fact,
though, A will
only know whether trusting B will meet A's expectations regarding C afterA has
given trust to B. Trust is the means whereby an uncertain future is giventhe
semblance of certainty so thatthingsmayproceedto an outcomeor future otherwise
notavailable.In attempting toachieveC incooperation withB, A's relianceontrust of
B wouldbe reducedonlyifB's freedom to act(againstA's interests)wereconstrained
throughsanctions,say, thus limitingthe possibility of erroror defection, or if
compensation were availableto A should erroror defectionoccur through B's actions.
Suchsafeguards havealso beenseenas thebasisoftrust. Butsuchmeasuresat best
affect misplacedorbetrayed trustrather thansecuretrustitself.
Somewriters (Fukuyama 1995; Putnam 1993) holdthattrustis a cultural facility
thatarisesthrough familiarity that comes from communaland customary relation-

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TheorSoc (2009) 38:367-382 373

ships.Thus in limiting thefreedom to defect,culturefacilitates trust.Cultureand

customfunction to reduceboththecontingency of trust- a presentcommitment to
trustis contingent on thefuture actionsof another, andtheprecariousness oftrust -
dependenceon the reliability of another.But thisarguablyremovesratherthan
resolvestheproblems trustattempts to overcome.Thisobjectionaside,accepting the
possibility of communal solidarity as trust gives rise to additional If
problems. the
basis of trustis locatedin communalsolidarity, thenthepossibility of trustin non-
communalmembersis theoretically anomalousand practically fraught. Even more
telling:empirical evidence suggests that community may undermine rather than
promote trust. The closeness of that
community generatesgossip and envy,for
instance, problem of the "evil eye," and other features of culturaltradition, are
likelysources of nottrust but distrust,which is an indifference to trustrelations, and
also mistrust, whichundermines trustwhenit exists(Bergmann1993; Boissevain
1974;Eisenstadt and Roniger1984).
The basis of trust has also been discoveredin a calculativepropensity of the
trustgiver,enhancedby the application of sanctions against defection. James
Coleman,forinstance, holds that the decisionto trust maybe based"notsimplyon
[an] estimate of theprobability of the trustee's keepingtrust, butalso inparton the
use ofnegativesanctions"(Coleman 1990: 115). Estimates of trustworthiness have
been found signallinggames, for instance (Bacharach and Gambetta 2001;
Gambetta andHamill2005). Sanctions,on theotherhand,tendto increasea sense
of certainty by providingotheropportunities forcalculation(Williamson1993).
Thus compensationfor defaultto encouragetrustare institutional bases of
certainty, as iteration throughrepeatedgames are behavioral bases that change
thestakesforbothtrustgiverandpotential exploiter (Dasgupta1990: 52-3, 56-8).
When institutional and social "constraints... contriv[e]to make it in the
individual'sinterestto be trustworthy" (Hardin 1996: 41-42, emphasisadded;
see also Hardin1993),thencooperation is facilitated or supported by meansother
thanthe distinctand separatemodalityof trust,and in thesecircumstances the
efficacy of the trust-giver's trust as a means to achieve a desired outcome is
reducedbytheextraneous sourcesoftheother'sinterest in propitious cooperation.
None of thescenariosmentioned in thisand thepreceding paragraph do justiceto
therequisitecontingency of situations in whichtrustis necessaryif thingsare to
move forward. The morethe outcomesof exchangesare subjectto sanctionor
constraint, and in thatsense predictable, the less trustis requiredto achievean
outcome.Calculationandtheself-interest ofthetrusted do notfacilitate or explain
trust;they tend to displace it.
As trustis locatedin thechoiceofthetrustgiverto dependon another in spiteof
an absenceof information concerning the outcome of that dependency, thenany
accountpremisedon customor tradition or calculationare besidethepoint,as we
have seen.The idea,on theotherhand,thattrustis a typeof knowledgeor belief
(Hardin2001: 10) orfaith(Giddens1990:30, 33), begsthequestionofwhattypeof
beliefor faith.Indeed,thenotionthattrustis a typeof "unaccountable faith"or
"suspension" (Mollering2001) derives in largepart from a conflation of confidence
and trust, as we shallsee below,thatis manifest in Simmel(1964: 318-319, 345-
346), but not general in the literature nor even amongthoseinfluenced by Simmel
(Luhmann1990; Seligman1997).

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374 TheorSoc (2009) 38:367-382

Another possibility, however,suggestedby Simmel'sassertionthatconfidence/

trustmaybe groundedin "someadditionalaffective" element(Simmel1964: 318),
encourages consideration that the basis of trust is emotional (Luhmann1979: 22,
81). Emotions - 'animal spirits' - are classically nominated as a solutionto the
problem of fundamental uncertainty by John MaynardKeynes(Keynes1981: 145-
163). Nevertheless, trust as "a human passion"has been contrasted withtrustas a
"modality of action" (Dunn 1990: 73-75), in order to dismiss the former on the
grounds persons cannot choose their emotions thoughthey must choose their
strategies. issue,however, is not whether emotions are chosen but whether
theyfacilitate choice of strategy. The capacityof emotionto underwrite trustis
implicit in James's account of forced in
option which,through the absence of
relevantinformation, action can only occur if thereis a commitment to act.
Commitmentalways involves both emotional apprehensionand emotional
In hisaccountofthe"Alpineclimber," inwhichan actor'sparticular commitment
leads to an unambiguous and singularmaterialoutcome,Jamesdemonstrates the
necessity significance of an emotional choice or selection of strategy in the
absenceofrelevant evidence(James1956:96-97). Jamestellsofan Alpineclimber
trapped on a narrowandicyprecipicewhocanescapeseriousdifficulty byexecuting
a dangerousleap she had notpreviously performed. Engagedby confidenceand
hope the climberis likelyto performan otherwiseimpossiblefeat.Fear and
despondency, on the otherhand,lead to hesitation, throughwhichthe climber
may miss her footing and possibly fall to her death. Whicheveremotionsare
engaged, and therefore whichever choice is taken, will be commensurate witha
particular outcome, but with contrastingly different consequences. This account
touchesissues concerningtrust,includingovercomingthe problemof absent
information as well as the tendencytowardsan outcomethat,if achieved,
produces a future it anticipates.
The conception oftrustas an emotionalfacility ormodality ofaction,developed
below, must be distinguished from the idea that trust may a "personality
be trait"
(Sztompka 1999: 65-66), for instance, and also from the idea that certain typesof
trustareemotional, as whenSusanRose-Ackerman, forinstance, distinguishes five
broadcategoriesthatpointto distinct processes"by which trustis generated," one
of which,affect,is "trustworthy behaviourencouragedby love and friendship"
(Rose-Ackerman 2001: 539, 540). Similarly,"trustas passion" is trustin the
contextof family,friendship, and nationalloyalty(Misztal 1996: 157-207).
Neitheris theemotionalbasis of trustto be understood strategically, as whenthe
giving of trust is seen as an affective orientation toward the other that generates a
favorablereciprocaldisposition of trustworthiness (Jones1996). Such accounts as
theserefernot to a generalbasis of trustbut to typesof relationships in which
emotionalorientations might stimulate trustworthiness in the other. But whether
love, for instance,generatestrustis an entirelyempiricalquestion:contrast
bourgeoismarriedlove in whichtrustmay be assumedwithpassionate"Latin"
love in which trustis likely to be doubted.The concernof the following
discussion,on the otherhand,pointsto an essentiallyemotionalbasis thatis
foundation to all trust.

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TheorSoc (2009) 38:367-382 375

The emotionalbasis of trust

Emotion is often a term of pejorativeevaluationbecause it may suggest

unreasonable excitement and irrational distraction fromusefulor valuedpursuits.
It is appropriate therefore, before considering emotionalbasis of trustto say
something about emotion in general.Emotionsare conventionally characterized as
reactive and visceral outbursts of short duration, such as anger or fear.But not all
emotionsare labileand disruptive. Some maybe calmand organizing, suchas the
emotionof satisfaction, instance, and also regret. Another misunderstanding
holdsthatthoseexperiencing emotionsare necessarily consciousof them,and are
awareof themas emotions.Theyneednotbe. Manyemotions, including themost
important forsocialprocesses, be
may experienced below the threshold of awareness
(Scheff1988).Muchexperience ofemotions is back-grounded inthesensethatthey
facilitatemoresalientprocesses, of which the subject likelyto be conscious,and
in doingso arenotexperienced as emotions and mayevenescapecultural labelling
as emotions (Barbalet 2001: 59-60; see also Nussbaum 2003: 69-71). The emotions
underlying scientific activity, forinstance, including discovery and theoryselection
operatein thisway (Barbalet2004).
Correctiveof the idea that emotionsare only disordering psycho-somatic
processesis theobservation thatemotions havecognitive andevaluational functions
(Nussbaum2003; Oatley 1992). If emotions underscore values, interests, and
meanings in social life, then they are implicated in rational as well as irrational
conductand outlook,and the distinction betweenrationalactionand emotional
actionloses its relevance (Barbalet 2001: 29-61). The question,then,is which
particular are
emotions implicated in distinct typesofsocialinteraction orprocesses.
The emotional elements trust be
underlying may calm,unobtrusive, and in that
senseconsonant with a
rationality,point we shall return to below. Trust requiresa
positive feeling of expectationregarding another's future actions. But the
expectation is not disinterested as the other's future actions will effectively impact
on thetrustgiver'swellbeingeven thoughtheyhave no controlovertheother's
freedom of action.Trustis supported, then,by a feelingthatone can relyon, be
dependent on another. Each of these feelings,of positiveexpectation and safe
dependency, is a variant or application of confidence. Confidence is not the sameas
trust,not because of a difference in the of
degree certainty attached to each (Misztal
1996: 16),butbecauseof a difference of attribution betweenthem(Luhmann1990:
97): confidencerelatesto contingentevents and trustto the subject's own
engagements. But the logical distinction betweenthemmakesit possibleto say
that"trustimpliesconfidence" (Rose-Ackerman 2001: 526; see also Giddens1990:
34). The basis of trust, then, is the feeling of confidence in another'sfuture actions
and also confidenceconcerning one's own judgmentof another.Thus thereis a
doubleconfidence withintrust.
To overcomethe ambiguitiesand silencesin everydaylanguageconcerning
emotionalstatesand experiences, permitting a clear expositionof the emotional
basisoftrust, it is necessary to distinguish between"emotiontokens"and"emotion
types,"theformer referring to everydaywordsforemotionalstatesand thelatter
referring to characterizations of emotional states"intermsoftheircognitive eliciting


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376 TheorSoc (2009) 38:367-382

conditions"(Ortonyet al. 1988: 173). The cognitiveelicitingconditionsof

confidenceare "approvingof one's own assuredexpectation."The object of
confidence is thusnotprimarily selforother, as withmanyemotions, suchas shame
(a negativeself-regarding emotion)or love (a positiveother-regarding emotion), but
expectation of the future.Along with security, and
depression, anxiety, confidence is
thereforean "anticipatory emotion"(Kemper 1978: 72). Like all emotions,
confidence has not only a phenomenalformand psychological tone,but also a
social basis thatincludesacceptanceand recognition, and theresourcesto which
these provideaccess, as revealedby variouselucidationsof confidenceas an
emotion(Barbalet2001: 84-90; Kemper1978: 73-77; de Rivera1977:45-51).
The typespecification of confidence underlying trustis "approving of one's own
assuredexpectation regarding another's reliability". important understand
It is to
trustin termsof thetrustgiver'sself-reference and notprincipally in termsof the
other'squalities.Trustis not "appreciation," forinstance,the cognitiveeliciting
conditions of whichare 'approving of someoneelse's praiseworthy action'.Thisis
becausetrustis givenbeforetheother'srelevant actioncan be knownor appraised.
Neitheris trusta mere prospect-based emotionlike "hope," for example,the
cognitive elicitingconditions of which are "pleasedabouttheprospect ofa desirable
event."This is because hope springseternal,whereasconfidenceand trustare
conditional on a self-based capacityforassessment of expectation.The significance
of thislatteraspectof trustis in thefactthatwhentrustis brokenthereis notonly
generation of other-directed emotions, suchas angeragainstthetrustbreaker, but
also self-reproach and self-blame. Luhmannrefersto thiswhenhe says thattrust
involves"an internal attribution"and thepossibility thatone may"regret[one's]
trustingchoice" (Luhmann 1990: 98). The mistrust of a betrayed trustgivermay
prevent trusting even those who are not onlybeyondreproach generalterms
butwouldhave metthesubjectivecriteria of thebetrayed priorto theirbetrayal.
Brokentrust reflectsnotonlyon thetrust breaker butprincipally on thejudgment of
Self-reference to thetrustgiveris as centralto trustas thequalitiesof thetrust
taker:botharenecessaryand neither one is sufficient. Because trustis basedupon
of and
feelings expectation confidence, the trustworthiness of thetrusttakercan
neverbe morethana partof the contextof trustgiving,and is onlyreal when
subjectively acceptedbythetrustgiver.The context inwhichtrustis givenincludes,
therefore, qualities of the trust their
taker,including reputation, self-presentation,
certifiedqualifications, and so on. But thiscontextcan neverprovideconclusive
groundsfortrustand neverconstitute sufficient evidenceforthereasonableness of
trustwhen it is given.A person'strustof anotherwill alwaysbe interactively
generated notonlyin termsof perceptions of trustworthiness thatmightsupporta
of of
feeling acceptance dependence but principally in terms of feelingsof
confidencein the actor's own capacitiesto formjudgmentsor assessmentsof
anotherand theirfutureactions.Thus decisionsto trustemergeas negotiated,
internallyreflexive and possiblyidiosyncratic meanings.Thishermeneutic element
oftrust frustratesconstruction ofa purelyformal accountofit,especiallyintermsof
Twofurther conclusions canbe drawnfroman appreciation oftheemotional basis
of trust,whichrelateto theconceptsof socialcapitaland rationality. Each of these

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TheorSoc (2009) 38:367-382 377

Given the emotionalbasis of trust,trustcannot

conclusionsis counterintuitive.
supporttheconceptortheory socialcapital.Second,theaffectivity
of oftrustmakes
itpositively with
continuous rationality.Each shallbe consideredin turn.

Trustand social capital

Social capital can be understoodas an "investment" personsmake in social

relationships or
thatenhance enrich their social resources.The termwas first
introduced in thelate 1970s to correctthenotion that societyis no morethanan
aggregation of independent individualsand theirdiscreteactions.The conceptof
social capitalpointsto thoseresourcesimplicitin social processesthatindividuals
mightdrawuponin facilitating theiractions(Coleman1990: 300-302). This idea,
withoutreference to the termsocial capital,is outlinedby demonstrations that
networks in whichindividuals are implicated operate as resources theymay draw
upon(Bott1971; Granovetter 1973).
Social capital,as sociallygeneratedresourcesor facilities, is a second-order
category to
as it is notpossible experience social capitaldirectly. According to one
account,social capitalrefers participation range in a of activities including, for
instance, churchattendance, voluntary associationmembership (from Red Cross to
tradeunions),community educationprograms, credit associations and cooperatives,
and similarformsof interaction, all referredto as bothinstancesand generators of
socialcapital(Putnam1993a,1995). These have in common a capacity to imbue in
theindividuals in
who participate them, in addition to the intrinsic satisfactions of
theparticular associationsthemselves, competency in cooperating withothers.As
JamesColemanputsit,socialcapital "is nota but
singleentity, varietya ofdifferent
entities havingtwocharacteristics in common: they all consist of some aspectof a
socialstructure, they facilitatecertainactions of individuals who are withinthe
structure" (Coleman 1990: 302). Trust,then, is central to social capital(Putnam
1993: 167, 170-1).
While social capitalsatisfiesthe purposesor interests of individuals, unlike
conventional capital it cannot be possessedby them: it is a public, never a private,
good (Coleman1990: 315-8; Putnam1993: 170). Additionally, social capitalis a
"moralresource," whichis to say thatitssupplyincreaseswithuse and diminishes
withdisuse (Hirschmanquotedin Dasgupta 1990: 56; Putnam1993: 169-170).
These are primary featuresof trust:its dependency on anotherand its emergent
ratherthanextantnature.The morepeople trusteach other,social capitaltheory
holds, the more likelyotherswill participatein trusting relationships and be
confident in theirdealingswithothers.Trustis a social resourceperformatively
generated through cooperation betweensocial actors.But theassumption thattrust
can be assimilated intosocialcapitalsuffers a disablingcontradiction.
RobertPutnam,for instance,findsthe Republicanpoliticaltraditionmore
conduciveto the conceptof social capitalthanthe Liberal.An argument against
trustas a formof social capital,however,is in a keytextof Republicanpolitical
theory. In TheDiscoursesMachiavellirelateshowPieroSoderini, Florentine headof
stateentrusted withthepreservation of therepublic'sorderand stability, responded
to malevolentfactionalism withpatienceand tolerance.In trusting his enemies

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378 TheorSoc (2009) 38:367-382

Soderinibetrayed thetrustof theFlorentine citizenry who lookedto himforthe

maintenance of civil peace (Machiavelli1979: 393-4; Johnson1993: 6-9). This
accounthighlights an aspectof trustabsentfromrelevantdiscussion,namelythat
trustis non-transitive. Transitivity is a property ofrelationships. Trustis transitiveif
in all caseswhenA trusts B, and B trusts C, then A trusts C. But not only does itnot
followthatA musttrust C, itis alwayspossiblethatB's trusting C mayleadA tore-
evaluatewhether theyshouldtrust B. Considerthatin 2000 A trusted TonyBlair.In
2003 Blairtrusted George W. Bush. Because Blair trusted Bush, A could no longer
trustBlair.Social capitaltheory, on theotherhand,assumesthattrustis transitive
(Coleman1990: 318-9). Thisis partlybecauseitsmodelof societyis moreformal
than substantiveand assumes linear rationalitywith no sense of emergent
contradiction. But moreimportantly, because trusthas a fundamental emotional
elementit cannotbe transitive.
Trustis nota generalized mediumormechanism ofsocialinteraction, likemoney
or Parsonsian power. The quality of trustand therefore itsconsequencesarealways
dependent on who is trusted and for what purpose. The emotionalformof the
assessment, that allows one to be on
dependent another, means thattheefficacious or
facilitating conditions or circumstances are always local and not general. It is not
simplytrust thatis non-transitive, as reflection inthisveinon love,hate,fear,andso
on will readilydemonstrate. Emotionsin generalcannotmeetthe conditionsof
Transitivity is a relationship betweenintrinsic properties, like theweightof an
object or its length. In the social realm transitivity is found in relationsof income
and wealth,authority in hierarchical organization, certifiable skill,and so on. Trust
cannotbe transitive because its effective contentis not derivedfromthe formal
characterization of itsintrinsic properties, butfromwhattheemotingsubjectbrings
to it. Like all emotions,the confidenceon whichtrustrestsis contextualand
conditional. An essentialfeatureof all emotions, includingtheemotionalbasis of
is a
trust, process of double non-deliberative appraisal.These are: appraisalof the
object of the emotion, what it means to the emotingsubject;and also, appraisalof
thesubject'sown needs,capacities,and possibleactionstrategies or responsesin
relationto theobject.This complexappraisalaspectof emotions, whatmightbe
calleda doublehermeneutic, is thebasisoftheconditional andcontingent natureof
all emotionsexperienced by persons,including those that underlie trust.Emotions
transcend givencircumstances through thedoublehermeneutic justoutlined.
Trust'snon-transitivity limitsitsincorporation in socialcapitaltheory. Does this
meanrelianceon trustis irrational?

Trustand rationality

It has beenshownwhytrustcannotbe basedon rational calculation.

The factsabout
whichactorscan haverational groundsfor confidencearethosepertainingto present
Butactionin generalandtrust
situations. in particular
aredirectedto futuresituations
andtherefore functionin termsofoutcomesthathavenotoccurred at thetimeofthe
choiceto act or trust.Trustis necessarilybased on expectation,not deliberative
Trustis precarious
becauseexpectationofoneactor,whogivestrust, refers

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TheorSoc (2009) 38:367-382 379

to thefuture actionsofanother, whois trusted. Actionthatbringsone possiblefuture

intothepresent drawsupona psychological mechanism inwhichthereverse projection,
of thepresentintothefuture, occurs.This is how theuncertainty of thefuture is
routinelyfaced,witha constructed ormoreproperly fabricated basedon
projectionnotcalculation (Barbalet2001: 90-92). Trustcannotbe a rational modality
of actionin thesensetypically understood by rationalist arguments.
The aboveaccountis notexceptional: as Gambetta says,"ifevidencecouldsolve
theproblem oftrust, thentrustwouldnotbe a problemat all" (Gambetta1990:233).
ButGambetta goes on to say thatitis nevertheless rationalto trusttrust,becauseif
theydo notactorswillneverfindout,andas trustis nota resourcedepletedthrough
use,itdoesnothavetobe savedforone-off trials(1990: 234). Indeed,eveniftrustis
alwaysmisplaced,Gambettacontinues, it cannotdo worsethandistrust, "and the
expectation thatit mightdo at leastmarginally betteris therefore plausible"(1990:
234). Gambetta's lastword:"Askingtoo littleoftrustis justas ill advisedas asking
too much"(1990: 235).
FromLuhmann 's perspective, on theotherhand,sucha conclusionraisesrather
thanresolvesthequestionofrationality: becausea decisiontotrust cannotbe basedon
pertinent knowledge, we "haveto conclude,therefore, thatwhether or notactionis
founded on trustamounts to an essentialdistinction [ordivision]in therationality
actionwhichappearscapableofattainment" (Luhmann1979:25). But,he goeson,in
beingessentialforaction,trust in someothersense.Therationality
is rational oftrust
in thissecondnon-calculative sensederivesfromthenecessity oftrustforaction:
Withouttrustonlyverysimpleformsof humancooperation whichcan be
transacted on thespotare possible,and even individualactionis muchtoo
to be capableof beingplanned,without
sensitiveto disruption trust,
theimmediately assuredmoment. in orderto increasea
Trustis indispensable
social system'spotential forms(Luhmann
1979: 88).
In thiscontext, rationalitydoesnotrefer tothedecisionsconcerning actionbutthe
meaningfulness of theaction taken(Luhmann 1979:88). Thisis a distinctionparallel
to the difference Max Weberdrawsbetweenformaland substantive rationality
(Weber1978: 85-86).
Formalrationality is concernedwiththequalityofan actor'sdecisionorthebasis
on which it is taken insofaras calculationeliminatesorientation to values.
Substantive rationality,on theotherhand, is forWeber subjectto values and ethical
norms.For our purposes,however,interest can be directedto theway in which
substantive rationalitylinksactorsto a broaderunderstanding oftheircircumstances
rather thanrelyingon a mechanicaldecisionprocedure foractionto occur.Formal
rationalityis closerto efficiency thanit is to substantiverationality. Weberwas
awarethatin thelongrunformalrationality was likelyto undermine substantive
rationality. importance of emotion to substantiverationality, thoughit is
held to confoundformalrationality, has been acknowledgedfromdifferent
perspectives (Frank1988; Oatley1992; Barbalet2001: 51-52).
It has beenarguedherethattrust, basedon emotional commitments, is necessary
becauseformalrationality cannotfacilitatechoiceunderconditions of uncertainty.
Trust,on theotherhand,as a meansoftranscending uncertainty, is essentialto what

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380 TheorSoc (2009) 38:367-382

we mightlooselyreferto as the substantive rationality of action.This is not an

appealto theconceptof bounded which
rationality, is a concessionto thelimitations
of humancapacitiesfromthe pointof view of strictrationality. HerbertSimon
believedthat"boundedlyrationalagentsexperiencelimitsin formulating and
solving complex problems and in processing(receiving,storing,retrieving,
transmitting) so thatwhile theyremain"intendedly
information," rational"their
"analytical data-processing" capacitiesare of "limited competence" (quotedin
Williamson1981: 553). The limitations
trustovercomesarenotof socialactorsbut
the uncertaincircumstances they face. It is shown here that in overcoming
fundamental trust,throughits emotionalunderpinnings,
uncertainty enhancesa
modified "substantive"
(without to
regard values) thatconnects actorwith
outcome, to whichneitherformal nor bounded rationalitycan contribute.


By providingan adequatecharacterization of trusta numberof consequences

becameevident.First,itis possibleto distinguish
trustfromvarieties oftrusteeship,
whichhave becomeconfusedwithtrust.Second,it is possibleto considermore
clearlythebases on whichtrustreliesbothby discounting some thathave been
proposedby otherwritersand more by elucidating
positively theaffectivebasis of
trustin an understanding of the emotionalcharacterof confidence.Once the
emotional dimensionoftrustbecomescleartwootherfeatures oftrustthatarehighly
to an
important understanding of itssocial operationcan also be Trusthas
beenwidely,one couldsay routinely, incorporatedintosocial capitaltheory.But as
trusthas an emotionalbasis,therequirement of transitivityin trustrelationsthat
assumesis simplynotavailable.Additionally, andalso counter-
intuitively, emotionalbasis of trust with
providescontinuity rationality andthus
in a way notnecessarily appreciated by otheraccounts indicates thatthereis no


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Jack Barbalet is currently

Foundation Professor of Sociologyat theUniversityof WesternSydneyin
Australia.He was previouslyProfessorof Sociologyand Head of Department of
at the University
Leicesterin England.His publicationsincludeEmotion,Social Theory,and Social Structure:A
Macrosociological Approach(CambridgeUniversity Press2001), Emotionsand Sociology(Blackwell
2002) and Weber, Passion and Profits:
'The Protestant Ethicand theSpiritof Capitalismin Context
(Cambridge UniversityPress2008). Barbaletis nowwriting calledTheConstitution
a book,descriptively
ofMarkets,to be publishedby OxfordUniversity Pressin 2010.

4y Springer

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