In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Trust

  • Introduction
  • Book Series and Handbooks
  • Data Sources
  • Journals
  • Definitions and Theory Construction
  • Theories of Trust and Trustworthiness
  • Survey Measures
  • Experimental Measures
  • Microlevel Dynamics
  • Macrolevel Dynamics
  • General Trust
  • Interorganizational Networks and Alliances
  • Economic Institutions
  • Political Institutions

Sociology Trust
Karen Cook, Bogdan State
  • LAST REVIEWED: 25 October 2018
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 February 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756384-0062


Trust is a recurrent theme in social science literature. Since the 1970s it has become the focus of a great deal of empirical work in efforts to identify its causes and effects in social life. Several key book-length monographs and edited collections seem to have stimulated the growth of research and writing on trust in the social sciences. Among these were the 1988 volume edited by Diego Gambetta, Trust: Making and Breaking Cooperative Relations, and the widely circulated book by Frances Fukuyama, Trust: Social Virtues and the Creation of Prosperity, published in 1995. A number of themes in these two volumes set the agenda for subsequent research, including efforts to understand the linkages between trust and economic development. Robert Putnam, a political scientist, took up this agenda as he put the thesis of declining civic participation at the center of criticisms of modern societies. For Putnam, the core claim was one of the demise of social capital, which included declining social trust. In this article, we discuss the literature that focuses specifically on trust at four levels of analysis (interpersonal, organizational, interorganizational, and institutional), separating this discussion from the more general category of work on social capital, originally defined by Putnam as encompassing networks, norms, and trust. No single discipline can claim to have covered this topic in its entirety. The field of trust research is truly interdisciplinary, with regular contributions from researchers across all the sciences, especially psychology, political science, anthropology, sociology, management science, and, more recently, neurobiology, behavioral economics, and even computer science. Each field offers a unique perspective, and each perspective has resulted in significant, theoretically important contributions to the field. Perhaps as a result, disciplinary boundaries have blurred considerably as research has progressed. Sociologists tend to emphasize the relational characteristics of trust, and relational characteristics, in turn, are generally classified according to the level of aggregation (e.g., individual level, community level, population level, organizational level, and societal level). In this review, we cover many of the important contributions that have set the research agenda concerning the role of trust in society.

Book Series and Handbooks

The Russell Sage Foundation book series on trust coedited by Karen S. Cook, Russell Hardin, and Margaret Levi includes influential books across many domains by authors who have conducted empirical work on trust at different levels of analysis, as well as several major theoretical treatments of the topic. The books in this series are referenced at the website of the Russell Sage Foundation. The Handbook of Trust Research (Bachmann and Zaheer 2006) is one of the first handbooks to summarize research over fifteen years on trust, especially the work focused on organizations and management. Besides the Russell Sage Foundation book series, there are few handbooks that cover the breadth of work that has been done on trust.

  • Bachmann, Reinhard, and Akbar Zaheer, eds. 2006. Handbook of trust research. Northampton, MA: Edward Elgar.

    DOI: 10.4337/9781847202819

    Summarizes key theoretical conceptualizations and empirical studies of many investigators primarily from business schools in the United States and Europe. It brings together work that focuses on management and leadership in increasingly nonhierarchical settings. It also examines the role of trust in organizational processes as well as in interorganizational relationships in a global context and discusses the role of trust in the economy more generally.

  • Kramer, Roderick M., ed. 2006. Organizational trust: A reader. Oxford Management Readers. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

    This edited volume gathers together in one volume many of the most provocative and influential papers published on the topic of organizational trust. It traces scholarly work from the roots of the development of trust to its emergence as a central research agenda for scholars of modern organizations. Kramer provides trust scholars and organizations researchers with a reference volume capable of serving as a broad guide that orients researchers to the field of organizational trust.

  • Lyon, Fergus, Guido Möllering, and Mark N. K. Saunders, eds. 2015. Handbook of research methods on trust. 2d ed. Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar.

    DOI: 10.4337/9781782547419

    Provides an overview of the successes, challenges, and innovations of present-day trust researchers. It gathers together, in one volume, the broad array of approaches and research methodologies employed in research on trust. Designed as a guide for empirical researchers, each chapter contains modern, firsthand explanations of successful investigation strategies.

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