The Politics of Trust: How Trust Reconciles Autonomy and Solidarity in Alternative Organizations

Emil Husted*, Sine Nørholm Just

*Corresponding author af dette arbejde

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In this paper, we explore the politics of trust in alternative organizations, understood as counter-hegemonic collectives characterized by an equal commitment to individual autonomy and collective solidarity. Although trust is rarely theorized in studies of alternative organizations, it is frequently claimed to be the glue that holds such collectives together. The main purpose of the paper is to substantiate this claim theoretically. Drawing eclectically on Niklas Luhmann and Ernesto Laclau, we argue that trust serves at least two functions in alternative organizations. First, trust serves as an object of identification for people who long for an alternative to the current state of affairs. Such identification rests on the creation of an antagonistic frontier between the organization and its constitutive outside. Here, trust is understood as a way of establishing alternatives by providing space for individual autonomy. We refer to this as the political function of trust. Second, trust serves as a mechanism that renders possible the reconciliation of otherwise irreconcilable interests and identities. Trust fulfils this function by suspending the temporal distance between present and future, thereby creating an extensive ‘moment of undecidability’ in which competing interpretations of what it means to be alternative may coexist. Here, trust is understood as a way of maintaining alternatives by cultivating solidarity between diverse individuals. We refer to this as the depoliticizing function of trust. Combined, these two functions allow people to be ‘different together’, which is often claimed to be the sine qua non of alternative organizing. In conclusion, we hypothesize that both functions of trust may be operative in mainstream organizations as well, although the depoliticizing function is clearly more prevalent.
TidsskriftOrganization Theory
Antal sider19
StatusUdgivet - 29 maj 2022


  • Alternative organization
  • Ernesto Laclau
  • Niklas Luhmann
  • Politics
  • Time
  • Trust