International Sociology and International Sociology Reviews

Topic of the Month, August 2020

The Concept of Trust

‘The concept of trust’ is our Topic of the Month for August 2020. On this topic, enjoy Free Access all month to this article by Jack Barbalet (Institute for Religion, Politics and Society, Australian Catholic University, Australia) published in International Sociology, Trust: Condition of action or condition of appraisal. Read on to know more about the author’s trajectory and work:

Jack Barbalet

What made you get engaged on that research?

J. Barbalet: Trust, as a research theme, is well developed in social science today, including in social psychology, in management and organization research, and of course in sociology research. The purpose or outcome of the vast body of this research is to demonstrate the efficacy of trust for social cohesion or solidarity. As a matter of fact, though, in our daily lives, no matter what we think or say about trust, the absence of trust and even broken trust has relatively little impact on our actual behavior. Do you really trust the Dean of your Faculty, or your Department Head? Possibly not. Does an absence of trust in the Dean undermine the effective working of the Faculty? Probably not. In fact, an even worse possibility regarding trust is that it might be a trap. A judge asks the defendant: “How could you cheat all those people who trusted you?” The defendant replies: “I could only cheat them because they trusted me.” It was these types of considerations that led to the article “Trust: Condition of Action of Condition of Appraisal,” published just over a year ago.

I have had a research interest in trust for some time, beginning with an article I published in 1996, “Social Emotions: Confidence, Trust and Loyalty” and another in 2009, “A Characterization of Trust, and its Consequences,” both of which were focused on emotional aspects of trust (see also Barbalet 2011). Two things in particular prompted the present article against the background of this prior interest in trust. One was the realization that trust research in sociology is actually quite recent, effectively beginning in the 1980, while social solidarity – for which trust is frequently held to be responsible – is original in human societies. The other realization that stimulated this article was that there are non-trust bases of social solidarity that are important, and in non-Western societies render trust, as we understand it, more or less absent. This latter realization came from my research on Chinese society and especially research on guanxi or Chinese connections (Barbalet 2014, 2015, 2017, 2018). These issues are discussed in the article. There is a third realization, also developed in the article, namely that the trust discourse of social actors requires an institutional context, almost never treated in research on trust.

What would you emphasize about your academic trajectory?

J. Barbalet: Academic trajectories can be recounted in different ways. In terms of my research interests, I have focussed on a number of key themes, including the bases of social interaction and also its institutionalization, as well as the nature and foundations of social solidarity in various publications over my career. I’ve explored these themes across a number of sub-fields of sociology, especially in political sociology, economic sociology, the sociology of emotions and the sociology of modern China. The approach I’ve taken in my research begins with conceptual refinement and theory development. These are directed to understanding social change and societal transition.

My undergraduate degree is from the Flinders University of South Australia and my PhD from Adelaide University. My first academic appointment was at the University of Papua New Guinea and the longest held at the Australian National University. Since then, I have had appointments at the University of Leicester in England as well as Hong Kong Baptist University. I am currently a research-focussed professor in the Institute for Humanities and Social Sciences at the Australian Catholic University and a Visiting Fellow in the department of Political and Social Change at the Australian National University.


Barbalet, J. (1996). Social Emotions: Confidence, Trust and Loyalty. International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy. 16 (8/9): 75-96.
Barbalet, J. (2009). A Characterization of Trust, and its Consequences. Theory and Society. 38(4): 367-82.
Barbalet, J. (2011). Emotions beyond Regulation: Backgrounded Emotions in Science and Trust. Emotion Review. 3(1): 36-43.
Barbalet, J. (2014). The Structure of Guanxi: Resolving Problems of Network Assurance. Theory and Society. 43(1): 51-69.
Barbalet, J. (2015). Guanxi, Tie Strength and Network Attributes. American Behavioral Scientist. 59(8): 1038-50.
Barbalet, J. (2017). Dyadic Characteristics of Guanxi and their Consequences. Journal for the Theory of Social Behaviour. 47(3): 332-47.
Barbalet, J. (2018). Guanxi as Social Exchange: Emotions, Power and Corruption. Sociology. 52(5): 934-49.