Sub-theme 77: May You Live in Interesting Times: Trust Dynamics in Changing Contexts

Lovisa Näslund
Stockholm University, Sweden
Kirsimarja Blomqvist
LUT University, Finland
Guido Möllering
Witten/Herdecke University, Germany

Call for Papers

Trust plays a key role for social cohesion and inclusivity, yet the erosion of trust in institutions that surveys have attested over the last few decades may foster a low trust culture and unfavorable context for trust development. The significance of context for trust dynamics has been highlighted in a number of studies, for example in terms of culture, institutions and technology (e.g., Bansal et al., 2016; Fuglsang & Jagd 2015; Mishra & Mishra 2013; Saunders et al., 2010). As societies change and face new developments, be it in terms of political polarisation, increasing economic inequality, climate change or pandemics, or organizational changes such as digitalization or the emergence of the gig economy, the conditions for organizing and interpersonal relationships based on trust also change. We do indeed live in interesting times, which, as the old saying suggests, can be a mixed blessing. In times of societal change, scholars should re-consider how their theories apply to the changing context (Johns, 2006; Rousseau & Fried, 2001). In this sub-theme, we therefore call for papers which explore the role of context for the development of trust, particularly in new and understudied contexts, with the aim of creating theoretical and empirical insights into the conditions for trust development.
As divisions grow within and between societies, studies of trust and distrust in “the Other” become more pertinent (e.g., Siebert & Czarniawska, 2020). Such divisions may be economic, social or political, and risk subverting democratic ideals and the possibilities of creating an inclusive society. Instead, subcultures and polarisation could result in high in-group trust, and low trust towards outsiders (Gambetta, 2008). In its wake, an erosion of trust in public authority and generalized trust in society may follow, and a growing distrust between groups, leading, for example, to the closing of borders. Then again, in times of crisis, we may be surprised by the level of solidarity and compliance that can be mobilized via institutions that are, apparently, still trusted after all when it matters the most. Moreover, cross-cultural collaborations become more common as a result of globalization and the creation of digital meeting spaces that transcend divisions and border (Zaheer & Zaheer, 2010). Can interpersonal trust be created across these divisions, what forms does it take, and how is it mediated? How can public authorities build trust, and how do trust levels affect how policies and interactions are chosen and enacted? How does social distancing and working from home affect trust levels?
If the decline of trustworthiness and legitimacy of authorities, such as media, government and science is real and severe, it challenges our abilities to address global issues such as the climate crisis, migration, and pandemics. At the same time, we see the rise of various protest movements and inspiring figureheads such as Greta Thunberg but also nationalistic movements and narcissistic populists like Donald Trump across the globe. These social movements, gaining traction through social media, are often seen as drivers of societal change. How is trust built (or destroyed) in such quickly moving social movements enabled by social media? How do public and private organizations and actors, such as public service organizations, think tanks and influencers seek to appear trustworthy and attain trust? We call for papers which offer empirical and theoretical insights into the links between legitimacy, authority and trust in these actors and movements, which would further our understanding of their ability to gain influence.
New forms of organizing bring new conditions for trust dynamics - complex problems require more flexible forms of organizing in cross-boundary temporary teams, loose networks and partial organization (Ahrne & Brunsson, 2019; Hurmelinna-Laukkanen et al., 2019). Not only private, but also the public sector is increasingly looking for new forms of organizing in cross-sectoral collaboration and including citizens in the dialogue. Building cross-sectoral collaboration across public, private and third sector actors requires trust that does not emerge naturally based on social and characteristic similarities. Social and cognitive diversity as well as physical distance and lack of information about the other in these circumstances means collaboration may to a larger degree depend on a leap of faith, i.e. trust. Technological change also calls for new forms of organizing work, such as the gig economy, creating new forms of employment and organization of work, or digital offices. This trend may be growing due to a possible global recession in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic. Digital developments also create new arenas where trust is needed, such as the sharing economy, and cross-sectoral fast responses to crisis situations. We encourage submissions which explore trust in these settings of partial organization and digitally mediated interaction (e.g., Blomqvist & Werff 2020; Kellogg et al., 2020; Logg et al., 2019).
Unusual and novel contexts can help reveal new aspects of trust dynamics, but a better understanding of trust is also needed to effectively address problems arising from those contexts, as solutions often entail an aspect of trust. Exploring the impact of context furthermore calls into question what impact context has, to what extent there are universal fundaments of trust and what aspects of context have significance in what respect. We would therefore also encourage papers that study trust in well-known contexts, such as interorganizational collaboration or trust within organizations. Moreover, we also need to consider the “dark sides” of trust and they ways in which trust might cause resistence to change or path dependency. Trust may not be as dynamic as the contexts in which it develops. Actors may even find themselves in a “trust trap” (Möllering & Sydow, 2019). How can this be avoided and how can the stabilizing effect of trust enable flexibility at the same time?
In sum, this sub-theme encourages scholars to revisit the relationship and impact of context on trust development, in light of new forms of organizing and changing contexts. We call for conceptual and empirical papers that extend our understanding of the significance of context for the development and maintenance of trust, and welcome papers that methodologically reflect the multidisciplinary field of trust research. The sub-theme connects the themes of “context” and “dynamics” that earlier EGOS sub-themes on trust addressed (see the former SWG on Organizational Trust, 2012–2017). It will be marked by constructive paper development towards impactful publication. All contributors will receive additional individual feedback from the convenors and co-participants in so-called small group “huddles” after every session. The convenors are connected to the Journal of Trust Research and able to give specific advice on state-of-the-art research on trust.


  • Ahrne, G., & Brunsson, N. (2019): Organization Outside Organizations. The Abundance of Partial Organization in Social Life. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Bansal, G., Zahedi, F.M., & Gefen, D. (2016): “Do context and personality matter? Trust and privacy concerns in disclosing private information online. Information & Management, 53 (1), 1–21.
  • Blomqvist, K., & van den Werff, L. (2020): “Understanding organizational stakeholder trust expectations for AI-based services.” In: Proceedings of the 53rd Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences.
  • Fuglsang, L., & Jagd, S. (2015): “Making sense of institutional trust in organizations: Bridging institutional context and trust.” Organization, 22 (1), 23–39.
  • Gambetta, D. (ed.) (1988): Trust: Making and Breaking Cooperative Relations. New York: Blackwell.
  • Hurmelinna-Laukkanen, P., Henttonen, K., & Blomqvist, K. (2019): “Between trust and control in R&D alliances.” VINE Journal of Information and Knowledge Management Systems, 50 (2), 247–269.
  • Johns, G. (2006): “The essential impact of context on organizational behavior.” Academy of Management Review, 31 (2), 386–408.
  • Kellogg, K., Valentine, M., & Christin, A. (2020): “Algorithms at work: The new contested terrain of control.” Academy of Management Annals, 14 (1), 366–410.
  • Logg, J.M., Minson, J.A., & Moore, D.A. (2019): “Algorithm appreciation: People prefer algorithmic to human judgment.” Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 151, 90–103.
  • Mishra, A.K., & Mishra, K.E. (2013): “The research on trust in leadership: The need for context.” Journal of Trust Research, 3 (1), 59–69.
  • Möllering, G. (2013): “Process views of trusting and crises.” In: R. Bachmann & A. Zaheer (eds.): Handbook of Advances in Trust Research. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar, 285–305.
  • Möllering, G., & Sydow, J. (2019): “Trust trap? Self-reinforcing processes in the constitution of inter-organizational trust.” In: M. Sasaki (ed.): Trust in Contemporary Society. Leiden: Brill, 141–160.
  • Rousseau, D.M., & Fried, Y. (2001): “Location, location, location: Contextualizing organizational research.” Journal of Organizational Behavior, 22 (1), 1–13.
  • Saunders, M., Skinner, D., Gillespie, N., & Lewicki, R.S. (eds.) (2010): Organizational Trust: A Cultural Perspective. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Siebert, S., & Czarniawska, B. (2020): “Distrust: Not only in secret service organizations.” Journal of Management Inquiry, 29 (3), 286–298.
  • Zaheer, S., & Zaheer, A. (2006): “Trust across borders.” Journal of International Business Studies, 37 (1), 21–29.
Lovisa Näslund is an Associate Professor at Stockholm University, Sweden. She works on the construction of trust in impersonal systems such as quality assurance schemes, digitally mediated trust and trust in AI. Lovisa’s research appears in journals such as ‘Human Relations’ and in books, for example, “The Routledge Companion to Trust”, “Trust in Regulatory Regimes”, and “Trust, Organizations and Social Interaction”.
Kirsimarja Blomqvist is Professor for Knowledge Management at the School of Business, Lappeenranta University of Technology (LUT), Finland. She works on trust, knowledge management, new forms of organizing and digitalization. Kirsimarja’s research has been published, among others, in ‘California Management Review’, ‘Scandinavian Journal of Management’, ‘Creativity and Innovation Management’, ‘Research Policy’, ‘R&D Management’, ‘Technovation’, and ‘Industrial Marketing Management’.
Guido Möllering is Director and Chair of Management at Reinhard Mohn Institute, Witten/Herdecke University, Germany. He works on inter-organizational relations, organizational fields, and trust. Guido published several books, e.g. “Trust: Reason, Routine, Reflexivity” and “Handbook of Research Methods on Trust”, as well as and many articles in leading journals such as ‘Organization Science’, ‘Organization Studies’, and ‘Journal of International Business Studies’.