Against all Reason: Trusting in Trust

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Title: Against all Reason: Trusting in Trust
Year: 2002
Authors: Sievers, B.
Abstract:

Trust is a double-edged sword. It can open opportunities of mutual productive work and at the same time, can be a sophisticated trap, in which the partners of trust are captured. (Amitzi & Schonberg 2000)

In this paper, I will be presenting a critical perspective on the meaning and relevance of trust in contemporary organisation theory and management practice. Although I am convinced that trust is ' like motherhood and apple pie ' a good thing and a necessary constituent of the social fabric, my interest is more in understanding the social (and political) thinking underlying the current academic and non-academic view of trust. My enquiry is not primarily on the nature of individual relationships, but on a macro-level.

From first sight there appear to be few psychoanalytic contributions to the understanding of trust in the general psychoanalytic literature, much less in organisational theory. The term does not appear frequently in the titles of psychoanalytic books or articles. While it appears in Rycroft's Critical Dictionary of Psychoanalysis, it is usually not listed in related (or similar) dictionaries. As Amitzi & Schonberg stated at ISPSO's 2000 Symposium in London, 'a well-developed psychoanalytic theory of trust does not yet seem to exist, although the main elements for it are quite ready .. to use'. These colleagues explored a case in which the consultants were trusted even in the face of paranoid organizational dynamics. My focus here emanates from my own reservations ' not about trust, per se ' but about its fashionable character and the 'lightness' (not to say 'naivety') with which it is treated both as a managerial tool and as a topic of organisational theory.

My hypothesis is that the attempt to engineer trust by management is the expression of an underlying denial of the loss of hope both with regard to the relatedness between organizational members (co-managers and 'workers' alike) and to the value and meaning of organizations. The experience of non-relatedness and lack of trust cannot be acknowledged by management, therefore the loss of hope has to be hidden behind the propagation of the importance of trust (and relatedness). The denial of the loss of hope is an expression of psychotic thinking concomitant with the inability to see reality and to mourn loss. Relatedness and trust are at the core of containment. As management increasingly lacks the ability to provide containment for its organizational members, the engineered propagation of trust becomes a substitute for trust itself. Therefore the engineering of trust can be seen as a psychotic substitute for trust and containment.

The ongoing dominant concern for trust also reflects ambiguity on the part of organisational theorists. While, on the one hand, they increasingly regard trust as an appropriate concept for a better understanding of management and organisational reality, they seem, on the other hand, to lack the courage to acknowledge the 'heart of darkness' (Joseph Conrad) of organizational life. Predominantly guided by the 'politics of salvation', organisational theorists tend to suggest solutions to the dilemmas of roleholders in organisations based on the assumption that they are lacking both the competence and the authority to alter their own situation.

In order to elaborate my reservations about the present view on trust in theory and practice, I would like to sketch the following:

1. As an expression of the denial of hope, the debate on trust is broadly biased and lacks a meta-debate on the assumptive framework of both trust itself and the 'nature' of 'people', of organisation, and the relatedness between people and their organizations.

2. Though the role and function of trust is analysed in various contexts - individual, dyadic, groups, intra-, inter-organisation, networks, and (on few occasions) society ' an integrative, systemic perspective is broadly missing.

3. As the main emphasis lies on management's responsibility to generate trust, broader organisational and societal issues are neglected as is the reality of non-relatedness and non-meaning for management and workers alike.

4. The debate on trust in organisations is based on theories and methodologies that emphasise rational and behavioural dimensions of organisational reality. As a result, unconscious dimensions and dynamics of organisations and their relevance to trust are ignored.

The paradoxical and tragic understanding of trust is expressed in St. Paul's notion of spes contra spem (Romans 4, 18), i.e. any serious attempt to trust will inevitably trigger the impossibility of trust ' or to trust against all reason.

Keywords: trust, mutual productive work, contemporary organization theory
Language: English


Date: 6/20/2002
Location: Melbourne, Australia
Name of Event/Conference: 19th Annual Meeting of the International Society for the Psychoanalytic Study of Organizations
Sponsoring Organization: ISPSO

Submitted by:
Elizabeth Novogratz

Corresponding author:

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