Organization Studies Call for Papers – Special Issue on “Trust in Uncertain Times”
Organization Studies is soliciting submissions to its upcoming Special Issue on “Trust in
Uncertain Times.” The Special Issue is guest edited by CTS Director Oliver Schilke, CTS Board
Member Reinhard Bachmann, Kirsimarja Blomqvist, Rekha Krishnan, and Jörg Sydow. The
objective of the Special Issue is to serve as a focal point for theory development on and
empirical insights into the various ways in which trust and uncertainty intersect, with a special
emphasis on the role of institutions in explaining the interface between the two. The deadline
for submissions is June 30, 2023.
For more details, see the Call for Papers.
Trust has become one of the most widely researched topics in organization studies (de Jong, et
al., 2017). Often broadly understood as the willingness to make oneself vulnerable to the actions
of another party (Mayer, et al., 1995; Rousseau, et al., 1998), trust plays a central role in virtually
all intra- and inter-organizational interactions. Prior research suggests that trust can alleviate
concerns of opportunism, which reduces inter-partner conflict and transaction costs (Anderson,
et al., 2017; Zaheer, et al., 1998).
Although the study of trust represents a long-standing area of inquiry in organization studies,
several recent technological advancements and geopolitical developments have dramatically
changed the landscape in which trust is embedded, pointing to the need for a re-examination and
extension of earlier accounts. Perhaps most notably, the ongoing Fourth Industrial Revolution
(Schwab, 2017) is fundamentally altering both economic transactions and social exchange
(Meyer & Quattrone, 2021). Supported by unprecedented degrees of connectivity and processing
of vast amounts of data (Hanelt, et al., 2021), digital technologies provide significant
opportunities to re-design work and develop more open, flexible, and scalable organizing;
however, their fast development and complexity also create considerable uncertainty for
organizations. Digital technologies are transforming the nature of human interactions (Iansiti &
Lakhani, 2020), with profound impacts on organizations, organizing, and the organized (Alaimo,
forthcoming). Specifically, there are reasons to believe that digital technologies may cause trust
to become more institution-based (Lumineau, et al., 2020), with formal mechanisms substituting
for a history of interpersonal exchange as the source of trust. For instance, digital platforms
facilitate trust between strangers (Abrahao, et al., 2017; Kuwabara, 2015; Mikołajewska-Zając,
et al., forthcoming), blockchains can automate agreements with unknown partners (Hsieh, et al.,
2018; Lumineau, et al., 2021), and artificial intelligence (AI) helps in assessing partners’
trustworthiness (Liu, et al., 2014). As a result, trust may become comparatively less personal
(Seidel, 2018; Vanhala, et al., 2011) and more embedded in the institutional environment
(Bachmann & Inkpen, 2011).
These technological developments come amidst unprecedented levels of geopolitical uncertainty
and an accelerated decline of trust in institutions (Citrin & Stoker, 2018). Thought of as a relic
from the past, a new cold war seems to be possible again. The Russian invasion of Ukraine
exemplifies how key tenets of the economic world order—such as globalisation, free trade, and
democracy—are more fragile than many assumed. What is more, China has emerged as a new
superpower that is increasingly demanding its share of the global system of power and influence,
leading to tensions and new challenges. The world has been massively shaken by a pandemic
that has demonstrated the instability of trust in the absence of strong institutions (Fancourt, et al.,
2020) while highlighting the critical need for various forms of trust in times of distress (Schilke,
et al., 2021). In parallel, climate change will force humanity to completely rethink our energy
sourcing, with a substantial impact on almost every industry, transportation, and private
consumption, and trust in reliable institutions may represent a critical mechanism supporting pro-
environmental behaviour that could address this challenge (Smith & Mayer, 2018).
Our theories of trust in organizations and processes of organizing need to reflect these
transformative changes. Against this background, we believe it is both important and timely to
reassess the role of trust in intra- and inter-organizational settings to better understand how
relevant contemporary developments affect and are affected by trust. The ongoing disruptive
technological, political, and societal changes that are affecting organizations call for revisiting
the very concept of trust, along with its consequences and the processes that underly its
development, maintenance, and repair.
The objective of this Special Issue is to serve as a focal point for theory development on and
empirical insights into the various ways in which trust and uncertainty intersect, with a special
emphasis on the role of institutions in explaining the interface between the two.
The Special Issue invites submissions that make substantial contributions to our understanding of
trust in organized settings.
We embrace a wide variety of theoretical and methodological approaches. The range of
theoretical orientations may include institutional, structurationist, ethnomethodological, socio-
material, phenomenological, and beyond. Diverse methodological approaches are welcome,
including case studies, experiments, secondary data analyses, and surveys. Purely conceptual
papers, empirical investigations, and combinations of theoretical and empirical research will also
Our interest is directed toward trust at various analytical levels (i.e., micro, meso, and macro-
levels), as long as organizations or organizing have a central place in the analysis. At the micro
level, for instance, we find it worthwhile to revisit the role of ‘facework’ (Giddens, 1990),
boundary work (Weber, et al., forthcoming), and rituals (Collins, 2004; Krishnan, et al., 2021) in
organizational settings, as such analyses will be clearly geared toward a better understanding of
the relationship between trust and institutional arrangements in uncertain contexts.
Below, we list a total of nine exemplary research topics that we believe will provide useful
springboards for contributions that fit the scope of the special issue. However, submissions do
not have to be limited to these themes.
Potential Research Topics
- Uncertainty and trust. Uncertainty, in its various forms, is inseparably linked to the
concept of trust. Uncertainty is often thought of as a precondition for trust, in that trust
tends to be more relevant when uncertainty is high (Deutsch, 1958; Yamagishi, et al.,
1998). Yet, it is precisely under conditions of high uncertainty when trust is particularly
difficult to produce, given the trustor’s difficulty to reliably predict the trustee’s level of
trustworthiness. Thus, many forms of trust production, and in particular institution-based
trust production mechanisms, are fundamentally aimed at reducing uncertainty
(Bachmann, 2001; Zucker, 1986). Taken together, these two positions result in an
intriguing paradox (Krishnan, et al., 2006; Yamagishi, 2011): trust is more important
when uncertainty is high but its presence reduces this very uncertainty. Given their
complex interplay, we need greater insight into how different forms of uncertainty and
trust coevolve and are reciprocally intertwined.
- A broader understanding of institution-based trust. Institutions are central to
prominent accounts of trust production (Bachmann & Inkpen, 2011; Fuglsang & Jagd,
2015; Möllering, 2006; Nooteboom, 2007; Owen & Currie, forthcoming; Schilke, et al.,
2017; Zucker, 1986), but most of these discussions have focused on a rather limited set of
institutions, such as reputation systems and intermediaries. Broadly understood as taken-
for-granted, normatively sanctioned role structures and interaction orders (Ocasio, et al.,
2017), institutions are everywhere (albeit certainly not everything, Ocasio & Gai, 2020).
They exist at several levels of analysis—ranging from dyadic relationships to
organizations, inter-organizational networks, organizational fields, societies, and the
world system. Armed with this insight, we need to expand our repertoire of institutions
that shape the production of trust in a wide variety of contexts. Embracing the contingent
nature of trust production, we need to address the following question: What types of
institutions effectively support or restrict which types of trust in what settings? How is
trust in one institution intertwined with trust in another institution?
- Platform-enabled institutions and trust. It is also important to explore the ways
institutions may serve as substitutes (rather than bases) for trust by eliminating the
vulnerability of actors that is often seen as a defining feature of trust (Cook, 2015). One
case in point are platform-enabled peer-to-peer reputation systems, which have emerged
as important online institutions shaping exchanges through mechanisms such as peer
feedback (Bauman & Bachmann, 2017; Kuwabara, 2015). Do such institutional
arrangements indeed foster trust, or do they safeguard exchange partners against
opportunism by enforcing cooperation? Under what conditions can platform-based
institutions give rise to trusting communities?
- Micro-level mechanisms of the trust and institutions nexus. Institutions are a key
source of trust production, but the precise mechanisms through which they create trust are
largely unknown (Zucker & Schilke, 2020). Why do people trust individuals and
organizations that are institutionally endorsed? In particular, what role does legitimacy—
as a key institutional process—play in institution-based trust production? Conversely,
what are the mechanisms through which trust affects actors’ engagement with
- Trust of meso-level institutions. The notion that institutions can be a target of trust is
largely uncontroversial; however, the questions of whether and in what ways formal
institutions—including organizations—have the capacity to place trust in other actors
have often been ignored (but see Sydow, 2006). We need a better theoretical account for
elaborating organizations’ capacity to trust that avoids merely anthropomorphizing
collective entities. In what ways is trust placed by collective actors similar to and
different from trust placed by individuals? Are the drivers of individuals’ trust
generalizable to those of organizations’ trust?
- Macro-level institutions and trust. There are substantial differences among institutions
embedded in distinct national environments (Henisz & Swaminathan, 2008; North,
1990); similarly, trust is known to differ markedly across nations (Lane & Bachmann,
1996; Yamagishi & Yamagishi, 1994). Nonetheless, a systematic account of how
country-level institutions shape trust at the individual and organizational levels is largely
lacking. Thus, we ask these questions: Which types of regulatory, normative, and
cognitive institutions at the country level can explain generalized trust? Moreover, is
there a reciprocal effect of generalized trust on the emergence of country-level
- Institutionalisation of trust. In some cases, the amount of trust placed is the result of a
deliberate and reflective cognitive process that systematically weighs the pros and cons
(Hardin, 1992); however, in many other cases, trust represents a rather automatic and
highly institutionalised process (Kroeger, 2011, 2013; Schilke, et al., 2013). We need to
know more about this institutionalised side of trust—under what circumstances it is likely
to dominate and what (positive and negative) consequences it may entail. Particularly
useful would be a process-oriented approach (e.g., Brattström, et al., 2019; Weber, et al.,
forthcoming) that identifies relevant stages in the institutionalisation of trust—for
instance, ranging from habitualisation to objectification to sedimentation (Berger &
Luckmann, 1966; Tolbert & Zucker, 1996) and deinstitutionalisation (Clemente &
Roulet, 2015). What are the mechanisms explaining the shift from one stage to another,
and what conditions affect the pace at which the institutionalisation process may unfold
in organizations and society as a whole?
- Erosion of trust in institutions. Institutions that enjoy public trust are a bedrock of
society as we know it, yet trust in institutions is in stark decline, raising concerns about
the rise of populism and conspiracy theories (Hosking, 2019). The reasons for this
downward trend have remained largely elusive and require greater elaboration. Going
beyond interactions between citizens and the state, trust in public institutions has
important trickle-down effects on trust in private and public organizations. Examining the
nested nature of these trust relations—that is, how trust in institutions is related to trust in
organizations and individuals—provides much potential for approaching trust from a
systems perspective that allows for appreciating the relational complexity in trust
dynamics in society.
- Digital technologies and trust. The decline of trust in institutions has coincided with the
advent of digital technologies. Several aspects of digital technologies—including
blockchains, big data, and AI—may have critical implications for trust in organizational
o An increasing number of organizations consider the adoption of blockchains for
structuring a wide variety of transactions (Lumineau, et al., 2021). In what ways
and under which conditions do blockchains complement and/or substitute for
trust? And how do blockchains alter the nature of trust if economic actors are no
longer directly connected and may not even know each other (Hsieh, et al., 2018)?
o Big data may come with huge benefits for society but also significant potential for
misuse (Symons & Alvarado, 2016), and overreliance on big data analytics may
transform organizations into near total institutions where conformity is enforced
via constant surveillance (Anteby & Chan, 2018; Newlands, 2021). How may
trusting communities emerge despite digital surveillance, and how can digital
surveillance systems be used in a trustworthy fashion?
o As AI is increasingly taking over decision making within and between
organizations (Glikson & Woolley, 2020; Kaur, et al., 2022), the trustworthiness
of this technology becomes an important issue (Shrestha, et al., 2019; Srinivasan
& Chander, 2021). As a result, we need to reassess the age-old question of when
opaque technological systems can be (dis)trusted.
Submitting your paper
Please submit your manuscript through the journal’s online submission system
(http://mc.manuscriptcentral.com/orgstudies ). You will need to create a user account if you do not
already have one, and you must select the appropriate Special Issue at the “Manuscript Type”
option. The Special Issue Editors handle all manuscripts in accordance with the journal’s policies
and procedures; they expect authors to follow the journal’s submission guidelines
https://journals.sagepub.com/author-instructions/OSS). You can submit your manuscript for this
Special Issue between June 8 and June 30 2023. For administrative support and general queries,
you may contact Sophia Tzagaraki, Managing Editor of Organization Studies, at
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