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The 24th EGOS Colloquium 2008  

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Sub-theme 09:

Breakdown of Trust Relations in Organizations



Janet Harvey
University of Loughborough,
Leicestershire (UK)

Ellen Annandale
University of Leicester (UK)

Barbara Miztal
University of Leicester (UK)

Ellen Kuhlmann
University of Bath (UK)

Call for papers

Within the context of 'Upsetting Organizations', this sub-theme seeks to explore changes, breakdowns, disruptions and the rebuilding of trust relations in organizations. Trust relations are central to the effective functioning of all organizations; in some sectors they are particularly key, for example, health care services, education, the financial sector and social services (Shapiro, 1987; Kramer & Tyler, 1996). Trust is also to the fore in some organizational forms to a greater extent than others, for example: team-working, networking; collaborative working generally. A consensus exists that the nature of modern societies alters the conditions of trust production. At the same time, changing modes of governance and citizenship across European countries create new dynamics and challenges to trust relations (Kuhlmann, 2006). Trust is also central to the question of ethics and how these are played out in organizations. In addition, trust is likely to be of particular relevance when an organization is dealing with situations that involve high degrees of risk or uncertainty (which must be managed) or when the organization deals with particularly vulnerable groups.

Trust is a highly contested concept, consequently there is much terminological confusion around its definition. (Cook, 2001; Gambetta, 1988; Luhmann,1979; Misztal, 1996; Putnam, 1993; Seligman, 1997; Sztompka, 1999). There is nonetheless a common understanding of trust as a common asset: a form of reliance on other people which involves beliefs about the likelihood of their behaving in a certain way; including an expectation that partners will not exploit each other’s vulnerability. Trust usually involves, on the part of the person doing the trusting, that the individual being trusted is both competent to carry out the particular role involved and also likely to work in the best interests of the trusting individual, client or group. Given uncertainty about the other and how they will act, trust in inherently risky and future-oriented (Luhmann,1989). However, commentators generally agree that trust is a beneficial feature of all social relations which needs to be strengthened (Mechanic, 1996). Fundamentally, if an individual does not rust in an organization, they are unlikely to want to engage with it (di Luzio, 2006).

Broadly, trust in individual professionals has remained rather static in the last twenty years, but trust in institutions has declined. The stream will examine how changes in Trust Relations are related to broader social, political, economic and cultural processes. It will be concerned with such issues as: the marketisation of public services, the effect of top down policy initiatives, changing technologies, changing professional relationships, changing consumer relationships, changing work practices, the increased formalization of informal arrangements, and the effect these have on trust relations in organizations (Groenewegen, 2006). An area particularly challenged by shifts in trust relations is that of science, which has experienced the collapse of the self-legitimacy of expertise, provoking a questioning of the centrality and legitimacy of scientific-technical expertise.

Key issues include:

  • How are trust relations changing within and between organizations? Are trust relations being disrupted and, if so, by what? What are the new bases on which trust may be constructed within organizations?
  • How and why do trust relations vary across different kinds of organizations (for example, public and private sector), across different countries, and why?
  • Is a certain amount of distrust 'healthy' in an organization?
  • What role does trust play in organizations in managing risk and uncertainty?
  • How far can we regulate against mistrust? (O'Neill, 2002). What has been the effect on trust relations of the greater reliance on overt regulations and guidelines, monitoring, transparency, legal protections and performance targets?
  • Do the more vulnerable members of organizations have more or less reason to trust that they will be well-treated and respected in modern organizations?
  • Is there still a role in the generation of trust to be played by personal familiarity?

If there is a diminution, even undermining, of trust within an organization this may lead to disorganization, disorder and decay; which is likely to result in the best outcomes not being achieved for either the individual or the organization as a whole. Breakdown of trust upsets existing arrangements and practices within that organization and may have unforeseen and upsetting consequences for all concerned. We, therefore, invite contributions rooted in empirical findings, theoretical explanations or critical reflections, which address the sources, outcomes and impacts of changing trust relations in a range of organizational settings and professional and occupational contexts.

About the convenors

Janet Harvey, Deputy Director, Social Sciences Department, CRSP, University of Loughborough. Janet has researched and published widely in the areas of work organization, risk and uncertainty, the impact of technology (particularly medical technology). The majority of her research has been in the health sector, for example: health service management, service configuration, network organizations, skill-mix and inter-face working between different professional groups and areas of the health service. She has been an EGOS Convenor on a previous occasion (EGOS 2005: 2lst EGOS Colloquium 'Unlocking Organizations', Freie Universität Berlin, with colleagues from the UK and the Netherlands for a stream addressing different methodological approaches to the production of knowledge in organizational studies).

Ellen Annandale, Senior Lecturer, Sociology Department, University of Leicester. Ellen has written and published widely in the area of medical sociology, and health organizations, in particular, on the health care professions, risk and medical complaints and equal opportunities and gender relations. She published in Social Science and Medicine, has written chapters in New Handbook in Contemporary International Sociology: Conflict, Competition, Cooperation, 2006 and has edited a volume with M. Elston and L. Prior, Medical Work, Medical Knowledge and Health Care (2004), Oxford: Blackwell.

Barbara Miztal, Head of Department, Sociology Department, University of Leicester. Research interests: sociology of memory, sociology of trust, sociological theory and political sociology, particularly issues of political changes, social movements and retrospective justice. Barbara is particularly interested in sociological theory that can contribute to a better understanding of conditions leading to the enrichment of democracy. She has published extensively in the area of trust.

Ellen Kuhlmann, Senior Lecturer in the Department of Social and Policy Sciences, University of Bath, UK, is the Co-ordinator of the Research Network 'Sociology of Professions' of the European Sociological Association and member of the executive board of the International Sociological Association Research Committee 'Professional Groups'. She publishes widely on health professions, health care, health policy, gender and public health and feminist theories and the body. Recent publications are Modernising Health Care and Reinventing Professions, the State and the Public (2006), Policy Press, Bristol, and in journals such as Current Sociology.