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Research in sociology on social trust is historically recent, reflecting changing conditions underlying self-appraisal in late modernity. Acknowledgement of these changing conditions, and especially their institutional background, contributes to a reconceptualization of the notion of trust and the role of inter-personal trust in social relationships. Under conditions of late modernity, described in the article as ‘precarious institutional maturity’, trust operates primarily as a term in a vocabulary of motive or as a value or appraisal regarding self and other, rather than directly facilitating social relationships. The supposed significance of trust, it is shown, tends to be exaggerated in the literature. The importance of the widely neglected institutional context is indicated in part through consideration of the case of guanxi (Chinese connections) in which high levels of social solidarity exist in the absence of trust.


Institute for Religion, Politics, and Society

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Journal Article

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