Research Programm

In modern and complex societies, trust provides a main basis for social order and cohesion. Current events and developments show how important, yet fragile trust can be: financial and economic crisis, lack of trust in politics, food scandals or doping in sports – these examples illustrate that “trust can be converted a lot more easily into distrust than distrust into trust” (Luhmann 1989: 99).

Trust is closely connected to communication since trust is built – or dismantled – through communication processes. Due to the digitalization of society, the forms and conditions under which communication provides for individual, organizational and social trust-building are changing fundamentally. Digital means of communication contradict common communication routines. They change existing trust relations and require new ways in which trust can be developed and maintained.

Digitalization is conceived of as a process of transformation going far beyond the development of technology from analogue to digital communications. The term rather represents a development that began with technological innovations and whose consequences deeply influence individuals, organizations and society as a whole. The economic, political, cultural and social impacts of digitalization have been subject of numerous scientific studies. However, these do not allow for a coherent picture as regards the consequences of these developments for building and maintaining trust.

The current research programme picks up on the processes described above and raises the question which consequences emerge from digital means of communication for trust-building. It thereby enhances existing concepts and models of trust and generates data on individual, organizational and social trust-building. On this basis, the scholars shall formulate concepts of trust communication that can actually be applied.

The central research question is:

In a digitalized world, how can trust can be developed and maintained under the conditions of new forms of (media) communication?