Social and Political Trust

Authored by: Karen S. Cook , Brian D. Cook

Routledge International Handbook of Contemporary Social and Political Theory

Print publication date:  March  2011
Online publication date:  March  2011

Print ISBN: 9780415548250
eBook ISBN: 9780203875575
Adobe ISBN: 9781135997946


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Trust has become a major focus of many social scientists since the early 1990s following large political, social, and economic changes in the world after 1989. During this period of transition, risk and uncertainty increased in part as a result of the growth of globalization, the rapid internationalization of business, and the increased interdependence of nation states. As Sztompka (2006) notes, the significance of trust has been fueled by changes in the quality and nature of the social structures and social processes in later modernity with the shift to democracy in many sectors and an attendant increase in human agency and interconnectedness. Along with these changes come increases in uncertainty inherent in the “unfamiliar, non-transparent and distant linkages” entailed by these new forms of connectedness. In addition, reasons for distrust have not declined. Highly publicized failures of transparency and integrity in the world of business (e.g. Enron in the United States) have eroded public trust in enterprise. Declining trust in public officials and professionals (e.g. lawyers, physicians, politicians, and ministers, etc.) has also fueled concern over decreasing social trust and the demise of civil society in general (e.g. Putnam 2000). Rising concerns about terrorist activity, civil wars, and other forms of violence continue unabated in many parts of the world fanning the flames of distrust and fomenting disorder. A large part of the increasing interest in trust, therefore, is centered on understanding what factors facilitate cooperation under varying conditions and help to produce social order and reduce disorder. Given these concerns, in this chapter we focus our discussion on current research trends in social and political trust within an international context.

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