Trust as an Aspect of Social Structure

Robert Wuthnow

in Self, Social Structure, and Beliefs

Published by University of California Press

Published in print September 2004 | ISBN: 9780520241367
Published online March 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780520937857 | DOI:
Trust as an Aspect of Social Structure

Show Summary Details


This chapter aims to situate the idea of trust in relation to one strand of sociological theory that has played a major role in the discipline's intellectual development and that emphasizes social structure. It offers a theoretical framework for situating trust in relation to the broad conception of social structure characterizing Smelser's work. In this conception, norms and values are prominent. The chapter suggests several warrants for trust that reflect the norms of differentiated social structures. The chapter also considers secondary warrants for explaining what went wrong when trust is violated. It also offers survey research data that suggests some broader social norms with which trust is associated. It shows how the institutionalization of trust differs across contexts of professional-client relationships, religion, and local communities. In drawing attention to trust as an aspect of the normative system, the chapter rejects the reductionist view that trust is only an individual psychology or rational calculation. However, while drawing on the central Weberian idea that legitimations provide stability to social structure over time, the chapter also notes that the inherent tensions and contradictions of social structure are a source of change. Justifications for trust vary between settled and unsettled times, and across institutional settings. The chapter equally rejects a rigid social determinism. It contends that behaviour is partly a function of individual interpretation, calculation, and negotiation, as individuals draw from several cultural perspectives in pursuing their ends.

Keywords: norms; sociological theory; social structure; differentiated social structures; trust; customs

Chapter.  10682 words. 

Subjects: Social Theory

Full text: subscription required

How to subscribe Recommend to my Librarian

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content. Please, subscribe or login to access all content.