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Trust: Acceptance of, Precaution Against and Cause of Vulnerability

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image of Comparative Sociology
For content published from 1960-2001, see International Journal of Comparative Sociology.

The paper offers a conceptual analysis of the relationship between trust and vulnerability. It argues that sorting out the meaning of both terms and developing further our understanding how they are connected are one of the important tasks of the social science. Trust is usually defined as confidence that partners will not exploit each others’ vulnerability. While stressing that vulnerability cannot be conceived as a single continuum, the paper views vulnerability as irreducibly plural and rooted in the human condition of dependence on others, in the unpredictability of action and in the irreversibility of human experiences. There are three trust-related mechanisms that lower these types of vulnerability, yet trust is not only a remedy for vulnerability, but trust itself is vulnerable to the universal condition of our humanity. The first type of vulnerability can be reduced by responsibility; the second type by promising; and the third by forgiveness. The paper’s conceptual discussion bridges theories of trust based on rational choice and those based on normative routines and stresses the interdependence between trust and vulnerability: trust is a remedy for vulnerability, but trust itself is vulnerable to the universal condition of our humanity.

Affiliations: 1: Department of Sociology University of Leicester, Email:


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