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Cooperation Without Trust?

Cooperation Without Trust?

Karen S. Cook
Russell Hardin
Margaret Levi
Copyright Date: 2005
Published by: Russell Sage Foundation
Pages: 272
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  • Book Info
    Cooperation Without Trust?
    Book Description:

    Some social theorists claim that trust is necessary for the smooth functioning of a democratic society. Yet many recent surveys suggest that trust is on the wane in the United States. Does this foreshadow trouble for the nation? In Cooperation Without Trust? Karen Cook, Russell Hardin, and Margaret Levi argue that a society can function well in the absence of trust. Though trust is a useful element in many kinds of relationships, they contend that mutually beneficial cooperative relationships can take place without it. Cooperation Without Trust? employs a wide range of examples illustrating how parties use mechanisms other than trust to secure cooperation. Concerns about one’s reputation, for example, could keep a person in a small community from breaching agreements. State enforcement of contracts ensures that business partners need not trust one another in order to trade. Similarly, monitoring worker behavior permits an employer to vest great responsibility in an employee without necessarily trusting that person. Cook, Hardin, and Levi discuss other mechanisms for facilitating cooperation absent trust, such as the self-regulation of professional societies, management compensation schemes, and social capital networks. In fact, the authors argue that a lack of trust—or even outright distrust—may in many circumstances be more beneficial in creating cooperation. Lack of trust motivates people to reduce risks and establish institutions that promote cooperation. A stout distrust of government prompted America’s founding fathers to establish a system in which leaders are highly accountable to their constituents, and in which checks and balances keep the behavior of government officials in line with the public will. Such institutional mechanisms are generally more dependable in securing cooperation than simple faith in the trustworthiness of others. Cooperation Without Trust? suggests that trust may be a complement to governing institutions, not a substitute for them. Whether or not the decline in trust documented by social surveys actually indicates an erosion of trust in everyday situations, this book argues that society is not in peril. Even if we were a less trusting society, that would not mean we are a less functional one.

    eISBN: 978-1-61044-135-3
    Subjects: Political Science, Psychology, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. About the Authors
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  5. Chapter 1 The Significance of Trust
    (pp. 1-19)

    The massive interest in trust in recent years seems to be stimulated by the inarguable view that social order is fundamentally dependent on cooperative relationships. This is a variant of what has historically been the central question in the social sciences: how is social order produced and maintained? General theories of social order range from assuming we need an all-powerful sovereign to coerce us, to requiring that we have shared norms or other mechanisms to generate successful social exchange, to merely supposing we achieve simple coordination to stay out of each other’s way.

    Some social theorists claim that trust is...

  6. Chapter 2 Trustworthiness
    (pp. 20-39)

    Trust is unproblematic in a world in which everyone is trustworthy, but it is often not easy to know the extent to which others will be trustworthy with respect to matters of concern to us. They may turn out to be trustworthy in all respects, but we may not know that and may not be in a position to ever know it. In this book, we focus on how actors come to cooperate with and rely on each other even when they cannot expect each other to be trustworthy. The degree of uncertainty often determines the nature of mechanisms put...

  7. Chapter 3 Trust and Power
    (pp. 40-59)

    One of the most important achievements of many societies, and especially of modern democratic societies, is the regulation of various kinds of organizational relations to make them less subject to the caprices of power. Such regulation is partly spontaneous rather than politically determined. People in ostensibly powerful positions often need cooperation from those under them if they are to succeed in their organization’s purposes and in their own personal interests. When such regulation exists in the background, the less powerful might well be able to trust the more powerful. Even in the most sanguine cases, however, the one-sidedness of power...

  8. Chapter 4 Distrust
    (pp. 60-82)

    In the burgeoning field of trust research, there are far more studies of trust and the role it plays in society and in social relations than of distrust and the role it plays (but see contributions to Hardin 2004a). Yet we probably learn as much about trust from the analysis of distrust as we do in analyzing the role of trust in society.¹ Distrust can be an active state, not just a passive state. When it prevails, it often creates a real problem for those involved—at any level of analysis. It is a problem to be solved. But it...

  9. Chapter 5 Cooperation Without Law or Trust
    (pp. 83-103)

    Now we turn to the heart of our enterprise, which is to explain how people manage their lives in the absence of trust and largely in the absence of legal or state enforcement of cooperative arrangements, all despite sometime inequality of power and often solid grounds for distrust. As is prima facie evident, the existence of the state and a legal system to govern many relationships can substitute for trust and other spontaneous motivations for cooperation in joint ventures of various kinds. In the role of providing law and stability, the state does not generally provoke cooperation but only enables...

  10. Chapter 6 Institutional Alternatives to Trust
    (pp. 104-132)

    Spontaneous devices to secure cooperation, such as those discussed in chapter 5, and direct oversight by government (chapter 8) might not work well in some contexts of great importance to us. We need intermediate devices. To secure certain goals that require reliable behavior from particular people in many contexts, we often rely on nongovernmental institutions to regulate them. We might need only the sporadic services of professionals, business representatives, scientists, and many others, but these are people whom we could not trust in the sense of encapsulated interest because we cannot monitor them and do not have repeated interactions with...

  11. Chapter 7 Organizational Design for Reliability
    (pp. 133-150)

    We now turn to situations in which it is clearly imprudent to rely on trust relations to secure desired goals. Midlevel organizational design provides alternatives to trust relations in promoting productivity and quality output in most workplaces, and especially bureaucracies and firms. These settings are the classical loci of principal-agent problems and often involve hierarchical relationships of unequal power. Typically, there is little basis for trust and some reason for distrust among principals and agents given the inherent conflict of interest in the relationship and the potential for exploitation. The primary means of aligning agents’ interests with the principal’s generally...

  12. Chapter 8 State Institutions
    (pp. 151-165)

    State institutions affect cooperation in two principal ways. First, government acts as a third party, providing security for and external enforcement of various interactions and exchanges among its constituents. If there is sufficient confidence in the government’s capacity to enforce the laws without extracting too high a rent in return, state institutions create a context in which cooperation becomes possible. Under some conditions, they may even facilitate the establishment of trustworthiness by allowing individuals to begin a relationship with small risks while they learn about each other. Second, government actors are in a relationship with those to whom they provide...

  13. Chapter 9 Trust in Transition
    (pp. 166-186)

    We have noted that cooperation built on trust relations and established within one context or for one particular purpose does not necessarily translate into cooperation in other contexts or for other purposes. Networks of trust can easily become networks of distrust; those within the network are trusted and those without distrusted. In this chapter, we synthesize these claims and attempt some general statements about the processes that take place when individuals cannot, with confidence, turn to the state or well-defined organizations to protect them. We illustrate the limits of building or relying on trust relations as the basis for creating...

  14. Chapter 10 The Role of Trust in Society
    (pp. 187-197)

    If we reflect on the wide range of interactions in which we have to rely on others whom we would not be able to trust on the model of encapsulated interests, we must realize that it dwarfs the range of those interactions that are actually grounded in trust relationships. The latter might be our richest relationships, but they are not our most numerous. Hence, there is a great need for powerful and often sophisticated devices to secure cooperative interactions. Although there are many empirical studies of such devices, there has been little or no systematic effort to bring them together...

  15. Notes
    (pp. 198-209)
  16. References
    (pp. 210-242)
  17. Index
    (pp. 243-258)