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Self, Social Structure, and BeliefsExplorations in Sociology$
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Jeffrey Alexander

Print publication date: 2004

Print ISBN-13: 9780520241367

Published to California Scholarship Online: March 2012

DOI: 10.1525/california/9780520241367.001.0001

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Trust as an Aspect of Social Structure

Trust as an Aspect of Social Structure

(p.145) Chapter 8 Trust as an Aspect of Social Structure
Self, Social Structure, and Beliefs

Robert Wuthnow

University of California Press

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

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