Submit a Manuscript to the Journal

Journal of Trust Research

For a Special Issue on

Trust and Vulnerability

Manuscript deadline
31 August 2024

Cover image - Journal of Trust Research

Special Issue Editor(s)

Simon Schafheitle, University of Twente
[email protected]

Antoinette Weibel, University of St Galen
[email protected]

Guido Möllering, Witten/Herdecke University
[email protected]

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Trust and Vulnerability

Trust implies vulnerability, as stated by various scholars across disciplines (Example 1, Example 2). Some of the most cited definitions contain the crucial idea that the essence of trust is an acceptance of vulnerability based on positive expectations. As Bigley and Pearce, reviewing earlier work, observe: “When the terms ‘trust’ and ‘distrust’ have been evoked in the social sciences, they almost always have been associated with the idea of actor vulnerability.” Scholars in other disciplines such as philosophy, economics, education, medicine, and theology also define trust in the light of vulnerability. Finally, behavioral conceptualizations of trust imply risk-taking and thereby incurring vulnerability, as trusting may not be reciprocated or even allows the other party to do harm.

While vulnerability is recognized as a conceptual cornerstone in trust research, few authors delve into detailed explanations of how they specifically utilize and qualify the concept. To further complicate, fundamental controversies concerning vulnerability in trust research remain unresolved. Some researchers, for instance, view vulnerability as a deliberate decision influenced by factors like perceived trustworthiness, while others, see vulnerability as existential awareness of the inherent risks in relationships, which is essential for the subsequent development of trust. In this vein, the acknowledgment of “being at somebody’s mercy” is a prerequisite for trust to emerge.

Hence, whether we perceive vulnerability as an existential condition or as a deliberate state, its relationship with trust—whether it precedes or follows trust—should significantly influence the way we advocate for trust, model it, and measure it. However, this matter has received limited attention. With our fundamental criticism, we of course acknowledge the few notable exceptions. For instance, Mistzal (2011) examines vulnerability as both a condition and outcome for trust proposing three types of vulnerability. Nienaber, Hofeditz, and Romeike (2015) distinguish between active vulnerability and passive vulnerability. While these studies offer valuable insights, much of the existing trust research tends to be superficial in qualifying vulnerability, and at worst, it opens itself to fundamental critique. It begs the question: what is the value of trust research if it fails to address the core underlying issue of vulnerability with greater precision and depth?

In addition to lacking more sophisticated conceptualizations, mainstream trust research has poorly addressed the empirical experience of vulnerability and how individuals succeed or fail to accept it within the context of trust. Only a few studies have specifically examined the perception and management of vulnerability and relational risk in practical settings (Example 1, Example 2, Example 3). Incorporating insights from fields that are often overlooked in trust research would provide much-needed additional understanding. For example, psychodynamics offers a comprehensive exploration of vulnerability, development, and trust through rich phenomenological studies. Furthermore, studies adopting a practice/processual perspective on feeling vulnerable and trusting can contribute to a more comprehensive understanding of the phenomenon.

With this special issue, we believe that now is the time to explore various conceptualizations and empirical experiences of vulnerability and their impact on our understanding of trust development, transformation, sustainability, rupture, diminishment, and repair. A deeper understanding of vulnerability can also provide valuable insights into the emergence and reversal of suspicion and distrust. By doing so, we aim to incorporate the multifaceted aspects of vulnerability into trust research, similar to the achievements of Baghramian and colleagues (2020) in the field of philosophy.

To inspire potential submissions, we formulate the following questions as avenues for exploration:

Phenomenology of vulnerability

  • How does trusting differ depending on whether vulnerability manifests as a trait, a state, or a “self-accustomed fate”?
  • How does it feel to be vulnerable, when and why is vulnerability salient?
  • What are ways to enact and cope with vulnerability and how are they linked to trusting?
  • How do we come to learn to qualify vulnerability (as a means to make trust performing?)

Taxonomy of vulnerability

  • What are salient ways and types of vulnerability in trust relationships?
  • How do these variants of vulnerability link with trust, distrust, confidence, and suspicion?
  • What do vulnerability dynamics look like?

Ethics of vulnerability

  • What is the “philosophical content” of vulnerability?
  • How does vulnerability allow trust research to better connect with moral theories, care, or virtue ethics?
  • How do vulnerability and trust/trustworthiness link as a moral obligation?
  • Can, and if yes, how should we qualify the volitional aspect of vulnerability when it comes to trusting?
  • How do vulnerability, faith, and trust relate and in what ways do they link grace, mercy, dignity, and solidarity?

Broadening the Lenses to Understand Vulnerability

  • What is the role of vulnerability and trust in theology, psychodynamics, complexity theory, and systems theory?
  • How do humans cope with vulnerability in a world with or without transcendence?
  • How can we understand vulnerability and trust from different ontologies (e.g., from a relational ontology)?
  • How are vulnerability and trust related to non-human trust referents?

Submission Instructions

For this JTR Special Issue, we invite conceptual/theoretical, qualitative, and quantitative empirical research, normative and descriptive, from the humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences. We are looking for contributions on the nature of vulnerability and its relationship to trust, including its emergence, interplay with various variables, and manifestation in different contexts. We welcome a broad range of submissions spanning disciplines such as ethics, theology, sociology, psychology, psychodynamics, economics, management & organization, and more. Contributions can employ diverse methodologies, including historical analysis, ethnomethodology, experimentation, as well as theoretical reflections on vulnerability and trust. Additionally, we strongly encourage interdisciplinary approaches that illuminate the multifaceted aspects of trust and vulnerability.

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