Operationalising Trust; a first cut at identifying the micro-level mechanisms of trust building

Michael Urban (Oxford)




Trust between agents emerges from both rational and non-rational processes. Much work has been done which explores the ways in which agents accumulate familiarity with others through the collection of information concerning others’ past actions and the ways in which this information would be processed by rational actors. Unfortunately, the equally important non-rational processes of collective identification out of which trust also emerges remain comparatively understudied and poorly understood, especially in International Relations. With this paper, I aim to help remedy this problem by presenting a model of how the types of collective identification required for trust occur. Specifically, I argue that, at least initially, this required collective identification depends on both (1) the development of positive affect between individuals, and (2) the expansion of individuals’ ‘sense of self’. Drawing on findings from numerous disciplines – including social psychology and even neurology – I present two distinct sets of mechanisms capable of generating these critical developments. I also present a list of additional catalysts capable of modulating the pace and intensity with which these mechanisms generate positive affect and expand individuals’ ‘sense of self’. Drawing on my own empirical work – including analysis of Canada’s decision not to acquire an independent nuclear capability – I explore the ways in which these processes operate at the micro-level. In so doing, I illuminate many of the difficulties associated with observing these processes, highlight the challenges involved in comparisons across cases, and reflect on how these methodological challenges can be overcome.

Mr. Michael Urban

Michael is a doctoral student in International Relations at the University of Oxford where he focuses on democratic peace theory and the roles played by liberalism and trust in generating peace between states. Born and raised in Winnipeg, Canada, Michael holds undergraduate degrees – a BAH in Politics and a BAH in History – from Queen’s University; an MA in International Affairs from the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs at Carleton University; and an M.Phil in International Relations from Oxford. Beginning in October, Michael will be the 2012-2013 Cadieux-Léger Fellow based in the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade in Ottawa. In addition to those already mentioned, Michael’s research interests include International Relations theory and Canadian foreign policy.