Trust and social capital in the design and evolution of institutions for collective action
Faculty of Law
International Journal of the Commons
, p. 151-176
University of Antwerp
This paper aims at developing an original account of trust in the framework of large scale, international collective action institutions. Our research question focuses on the structures and mechanisms that are necessary to sustain the trust needed to uphold the effective operation of institutions for collective action. Our theoretical framework for studying trust is based on the social capital theory. Social capital is defined as the features of social organization, such as trust, networks and norms that facilitate coordination and cooperation for mutual benefit. We claim that in different sectors and contexts stakeholders encounter difficulties in collaborating in setting up experimental institutions for collective action. In order to generate more collaboration, stakeholders need to create structures that incite actors to find better ways to sustain trust, to integrate the process of sustaining trust in the organization, and to nourish it with the precise normative idea behind the institutional apparatus. In the plant and biomedical sector, stakeholders have encountered difficulties in sustaining trust while experimenting with different coordination mechanisms for dealing with the increased appropriation of knowledge through patents. Our analysis of some examples from the plant and biomedical sector suggest that institutions could be understood as complex pragmatic connectors of trust, i.e. social matrices of collective action that sustain individual commitment, where routine and reflexivity drive trust-based coordination mechanisms in interaction with their environment.