Our focus on specific relationships and interactions

For this project, we undertook three in-depth case studies. What we wanted to explore with people were some of their specific experiences of trust emerging (or collapsing). We were not looking for big generalisations about trust in society. Instead we were curious to see if we could identify some moments where there was a movement in a person’s sense of trusting another (or being trusted by another). In other words, we wanted to encourage interviewees to notice the specific human interactions and incidents in which trust or distrust emerged. 

At time of writing, I hadn’t started interviewing but I was talking informally to friends about trust and also examining my own experience. As I did so, I noticed I was increasingly inclined to explore trust in a multi-perspective way. It seemed much more revealing to hear two or more parties talking about the same event or relationship, rather than hearing only a one-sided account.

One friend related to me how she sometimes distrusts people at work because of their role. For example, she is generally mistrusting of senior management in her organisation (a university). What this tells me is that trust is not just about the interactions between the immediate parties. The whole context around them, and no doubt the history, play a big part. (We later came to explore the role that ‘the system’ plays in undermining or fostering trust.)

In reflecting on my own experience of trust, I also notice it is hard to distinguish between trusting and liking someone. As I get to know somebody, I am simultaneously growing to trust and like them (or to distrust and dislike them). I wonder, can we like someone we don’t trust? Probably not. But I think to some degree we can trust someone we don’t particularly like.

Alison Donaldson

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