Edited by Fergus Lyon, Guido Möllering and Mark N.K. Saunders
Chapter 15: Hermeneutic Methods in Trust Research
Gerard Breeman INTRODUCTION The hermeneutic method is often implicitly applied in historical research. This chapter shows explicitly how the hermeneutic method can help us to understand trust relations in unique historical cases, and how it helps us to discern general patterns of gaining and losing trust. It is sometimes amazing why people trust other persons or organizations. A great deal of trust research focuses on listing all the different reasons people have for trusting and correlating them with various independent variables. My fascination, though, is with the reasons behind these reasons: why do people give specific reasons for trusting someone or something? Not only do I want to know how much trust is out there and what the reasons for trusting are, but also why people give those particular reasons for trusting. In my experience the hermeneutic approach is a good method for finding out how and why people trust other people. The method is particularly useful to gain insights into the different intentions of all the parties involved. It connects the actual human interactions with intentions. The strong asset of the hermeneutic method is that it aims not only to understand a specific event, but also to identify general, objective patterns of human interaction. Scholars who use the hermeneutic method construct abstract patterns of interaction, in which they highlight specific features and disregard other observations. The economic-sociologist Max Weber referred to these patterns as ‘Ideal Typen’ (Weber, 1972). These general patterns, in turn, are used to understand specific historic...
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