Looking ‘beyond the factory gates’: towards more pluralist and radical approaches to intra-organizational trust research

Sabina Siebert (Lead / Corresponding author), Graeme Martin, Branko Bozic, Iain Docherty

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    The aim of this paper is to suggest new avenues for trust research by critiquing the extant literature on this topic. We analyse the most influential research on intraorganizational trust from the perspective of a classic industrial sociology framework from the 1970s – Alan Fox’s work on frames of reference and trust dynamics.
    Our analysis of intraorganizational trust studies leads us to three conclusions. First, the large majority of intraorganizational trust research has strong unitarist underpinnings, which support a managerial agenda that is potentially detrimental to employees’ (and indeed managers’) long-term interests. Second, most of this research fails to explain how trust in organizations is embedded in societal and field-level institutions, hence it would benefit from looking ‘beyond the factory gates’ for a more complete understanding of trust dynamics in organizations. In this connection, we argue that Fox’s pluralist and radical perspectives, which are under-represented in intraorganizational trust research, could provide new lines of inquiry by locating internal trust relations in a wider institutional context. Third, Fox’s explanation of how low and high trust dynamics in organizations are embedded in wider society may help address the concerns about undersocialized, endogenous explanations and open the way for structure-agency analyses of building, maintaining and repairing intraorganizational trust.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)1033-1062
    Number of pages30
    JournalOrganization Studies (OS)
    Issue number8
    Early online date7 May 2015
    Publication statusPublished - Aug 2015


    • Alan Fox
    • frames of reference
    • industrial sociology
    • organizational trust
    • trust dynamics


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