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Edited by Reinhard Bachmann and Akbar Zaheer
Chapter 20: Trust, Institutions, Agency: Towards a Neoinstitutional Theory of Trust
Guido Möllering Introduction The notion that trust can be based on institutions has been widely accepted in the literature for many decades, if not centuries, in so far as sociologists and political scientists have sought to understand how social interaction requires – and produces – a reliable social order. It has also been adopted in certain parts of organization theory and management studies. For example, Reinhard Bachmann (1998) notes: ‘The foremost problems relating to the analysis of trust seem to be connected to the understanding of the role of the institutional environment in which business relations are embedded’ (p. 298). In this chapter, I aim to contribute to this literature by presenting fundamental concepts from sociological neoinstitutionalism that are particularly powerful for an institutional explanation of trust. By introducing concepts such as ‘natural attitude’ and ‘institutional isomorphism’ to the problem of trust, the diﬃcult and, in my view, still under-explored question of how actors relate to institutions can be addressed. Admittedly, what I refer to as ‘sociological neoinstitutionalism’ here is just one speciﬁc and not even very coherent stream of literature in the broad range of institutional theories, uniﬁed only by some more or less direct connection with Powell and DiMaggio’s (1991) New Institutionalism volume. However, this work is able to ﬁll many of the holes left by other institutional approaches and, of course, by trust theories that do not take institutions into account at all. In management and organization studies, in particular, the focus has been on...
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