Auto-Immunity of Trust Without Trust

Published date01 October 2010
Date01 October 2010
AuthorBadredine Arfi
Subject MatterArticle
Abstract: Trust has been widely investigated both theoretically and empirically.
Whether thought of as the result of a calculation of costs/benefits, a shared
identity, or a leap of faith, there always seems to be an ‘as if’ rhetorical gesture
which is ultimately needed to explain how actors move from the base of trust
to expectations of trust via suspending judgment on uncertainty and fear of
vulnerability to betrayal and exploitation the actors ultimately act ‘as if’ they
do not fear uncertainty and vulnerability to betrayal. Yet this ‘as if’ element
has remained seriously under-theorised. Drawing on Derrida’s deconstruction,
I propose a way of thinking this ‘as if’ element of trust. I thus argue that the
decision to trust occurs in a terrain of structural undecidability. The latter is
thought of as the possibility condition of trust as well as the subject of trust and a
sense of responsibility for this trust. The aporiatic nature of undecidability makes
this trust an auto-immune trust which obeys the tripartite logic of ‘without’
which both negates and affirms trust.
Keywords: Auto-immunity, deconstruction, promise, trust, undecidability
The problem of trust has been widely investigated both theoretically and
empirically in social sciences, economics, administrative and organisational
studies, and philosophy (to cite a few).1Trust is usually defined as a subject’s
willingness to place his or her interests, and sometimes even fate, under the
influence or control of others. Trust has also been defined as more or less
confidence in systems and institutions. More often than not trust is thought to
be the result of predictions based on cost-benefit analysis of actors’ interests.
‘I trust you because your interest encapsulates mine, which is to say that you
have an interest in fulfilling my trust’, says Hardin (2002: 3). Trust has also
Journal of International Political Theory, 6(2) 2010, 188–216
DOI: 10.3366/E1755088210000534
© Edinburgh University Press 2010
Auto-immunity of Trust without Trust
been hypothesised to be the product of actors’ identities and interests which
are socially constructed through social learning processes. Trust has been cast
in terms of ‘what is right to do’, with the would-be trusting believing that the
would-be trusted will honor their obligation to avoid using their freedom of
action in a harmful manner to the former. Trust has alternatively been thought
of as the result of suspending judgment on uncertainty and fear of betrayal and
exploitation and deciding to act on a leap of faith of sorts after having exhausted
all possible knowledge on actors and their environment. ‘Trust succeeds where
rational prediction alone would fail, because to trust is to live as if certain
rationally possible futures will not occur’, argue Lewis and Weigert (1985: 969).
Actors would hence ‘act as if the situation they face was unproblematic’, also
says Möllering (2006: 6, emphasis in original). As such, this ‘as if’ element
seems to be an essential part of the process of trust. Yet this ‘as if’ element has
surprisingly remained under-theorised.
In this paper I propose a way of thinking about this ‘as if’ element of trust.
I first argue that the trust dilemma emerges due to structural undecidability,
and not just to a lack of information, knowledge, and/or fear of vulnerability
to exploitation and betrayal. Undecidability is a condition of determinate
oscillation between various possibilities that are themselves highly determined
in well defined situations (Derrida 1988: 115–19). More specifically, I argue
that the very condition of undecidability is what creates both the urgency for
a decision to take the ‘as if’ leap toward enacting trust as well as the subject
(qua subject of trust) who assumes responsibility for other participants in the
trust process. Such a sense of responsibility goes much beyond and much deeper
than any sense of responsibility that, for example, a rationalist approach would
allow for. Moreover, this kind of trust emerges within the aporiatic politics of
undecidability and is a sort of trust without trust, obeying both the logic of
the ‘without’ (which negates and affirms at the same time) and auto-immunity
(which, to a certain extent, makes trust immune to itself).
The paper is organised in five sections. In section I, I use as an entry point
into the proposed conceptualisation of the ‘as if’ element of trust the so-called
rationalist (or calculative) approach to the study of trust. I then generalise the
discussion by considering the so-called hetero-knowledge approach to trust
which posits that trust is a step that we take when we reach the limit of our
knowledge. A common thread of these approaches is to think of trust as an ‘as
if’ leap from the basis of trust to expectation of trust. In section II, I introduce the
notion of undecidability and discuss a few of its aspects relevant to the issue at
stake. This paves the way to section III where I propose a theorisation of the ‘as
if’ rhetorical gesture. I begin, following Jacques Derrida, with a deconstructive
re-thinking of the ‘as if’ rhetorical gesture. This leads to the idea that the ‘as
if’ rhetorical gesture is an event in the sense of ‘saying as if’ and as such the
‘as if’ gesture is a pervertible promise (in the sense of Derrida). Bringing these
elements together paves the way to section IV where I propose that trust based on

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