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The Linguistic Construction of Trust


Admission requirements

This course is available for students of the Humanities Lab.
If you have received your propaedeutic diploma within one academic year, your academic results are good and you are a very motivated student, you may apply for a place in the Humanities Lab.


Trust is a cornerstone of human sociality. It is crucial for individuals’ emotional health and for societal cohesion and progress. Trust has been extensively studied in economics, organizational studies, sociology, business, and management, where the focus has been on institutional and “macro” aspects of trust. Researchers in these fields generally identify three sources of trust: reason (what may be rationally expected), routine (what is taken for granted), and reflexivity (what is agentively (re)constructed based on intentionally produced signals). A fourth and defining element in the trust-building process is the leap of faith, that is, the ability to trust under uncertainty. The leap of faith places the trust-building process partly outside rational calculation and within the realm of human bonding and affect, and at the same time makes it amenable to empirical study, so long as reasons for trust can be identified.

In this course, we overview the field of trust research, focusing on face-to-face encounters and the role of language and discourse in the trust-building process. We also investigate the complex ways in which language interacts with paralinguistics (prosodic, facial, and kinesic clues) to foster trust. A central goal is to establish potential cross-linguistic patterns in the linguistic construction of trust: how do speakers of different languages establish trust? This question has both theoretical significance for (pragmatic) language diversity and practical significance for possibilities of trust-building among individuals from different linguistic and cultural backgrounds.

Course objectives

In this course students will:

  • familiarize themselves with academic writings from multiple disciplines (sociology, economics, organizational studies, linguistics);

  • learn to synthesize the findings of multiple disciplines and develop an understanding of a complex socio-psychological phenomenon (trust) from multiple disciplinary perspectives;

  • develop short empirical (e.g., questionnaire surveys) or review projects based on their readings;

  • develop academic writing skills;

  • develop presentation skills.


Visit MyTimetable.

Courses of the Humanities Lab are scheduled on Friday afternoon from 13.30 to 17.00hrs.

Mode of instruction

  • Seminar.

Assessment method

  • Paper;

  • Abstract, oral presentation.


  • Participation 25%

  • In class presentation 25%

  • Final paper 50%.


Attendance is compulsory for all meetings (lectures, seminars, excursion). If you are unable to attend due to circumstances beyond your control, notify the Humanities Lab coordinators in advance, providing a valid reason for your absence, and hand in your weekly assignment in writing to the lecturer (if applicable). Being absent without notification and valid reason may result in lower grades or exclusion from the course.


It is only possible to revise and re-submit the final paper. The revision should be completed within 10 days of the original assessment. If, after re-submission, the final paper achieves a passing grade, that will be the grade for the course (ie, the other components will be disregarded).

Inspection and feedback

How and when an exam review will take place will be disclosed together with the publication of the exam results at the latest. If a student requests a review within 30 days after publication of the exam results, an exam review will have to be organized.

Reading list

Indicative bibliography:

  • Bachmann, R. and A. Zaheer (eds.) (2006) Handbook of Trust Research. Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar.

  • Candlin, C.N. and J. Crichton (eds.) (2013) Discourses of Trust. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

  • Feldman, G., H. Lian, M. Kosinski and D. Stillwell (2017) Frankly, we do give a damn: The relationship between profanity and honesty. Social Psychological and Personality Science 8 (7): 816–826.

  • Marková, I. and P. Linell (2014) Dialogical Approaches to Trust in Communication. Charlotte, NC: Information Age.

  • Möllering, G. (2006) Trust: Reason, Routine, Reflexivity. Oxford: Elsevier.

  • Nooteboom, B. (2006). Social capital, institutions and trust. (Center Discussion Paper; Vol. 2006-35). Tilburg: Organization.

  • Pelsmaekers, K., G. Jacobs and C. Rollo (2014) Trust and Discourse: Organizational perspectives. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

  • Watson, R. (2009) Constitutive practices and Garfinkel’s notion of trust: Revisited. Journal of Classical Sociology 9(4): 475–499.

Assigned readings (ca. 50 pages) will be made available via uploading on Brightspace. They should be read before class to enhance the level of class discussion.


Students of the Humanities Lab will be registered via uSis by the administration of the Humanities Lab. More information about registration for courses will be provided on Brightspace.

General information about uSis is available on the website

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Not applicable.


Lecturer: Prof.dr. M. Terkourafi
Humanities Lab office: e-mail


This course is part of the Humanities Lab programme, visit the website for more information.
Visit the Honours Academy website for more information about the Honours College.