Trust and Confidentiality: Secrecy as trust-building device

Morten Frederiksen, Uffe Kjærgaard Hansen

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperResearchpeer-review


In Danish industrial relations the employee elected shop steward ‘tillidsrepræsentant’ (literally ‘trust representative’) constitute the fulcrum of local negotiations between management and labour. These shop stewards are, one the one hand, representatives of the institutionalized mistrust between labour and management. On the other hand, their ability to influence management decisions hinge on the mutual trust between shop steward and management. This produces an inherent paradox where those shop stewards who seek the trust of their colleagues must be completely transparent in their dealings with management, thus becoming less trust worthy in the eyes of their management counterpart. Those shop stewards who seek a high level of influence must treat much of their dealings with management as confidential, thus making themselves subject to criticism and mistrust from their colleagues.

The qualitative study reported in this paper is based on qualitative interviews with 29 shop stewards from 9 different chapters of a Danish trade union organizing the low-skill workers within the care sector. The study shows how, as claimed by Georg Simmel, secrets are important devices in creating and maintaining trust relations. However, it also reveals how the transparency needed for confidence in procedures and institutions may be incompatible with the reciprocity and confidentiality needed for intersubjective trust to arise. By taking into account the more complex interconnections of multiple simultaneous trust relations, this study reconfigurates much of our current thinking on the trust-control nexus.
Translated title of the contributionTillid og fortrolighed: Hemmeligheder som tillidsopbyggende fænomen
Original languageEnglish
Publication date2018
Publication statusPublished - 2018
EventXIX ISA World Congress of Sociology: Power, Violence and Justice: Reflections, Responses and Responsibilities - Metro Toronto Convention Center, Toronto, Canada
Duration: 15 Jul 201821 Jul 2018


ConferenceXIX ISA World Congress of Sociology
LocationMetro Toronto Convention Center
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