The Complex Relationship Between Civil Society and Trust


  • Per Selle University of Bergen
  • Dag Wollebæk Institute of social research, Oslo



civil society, voluntary organizations, institutionalism


This article is about the importance of an institutional perspective of trust. The core argument is that the type, scope and organization of civil society play a crucial role for the high level of trust and social capital in the Scandinavian countries. We argue that both the legitimacy of public institutions and their ability to deliver over time depend on a vibrant organizational society in which the organizations have independent institutional significance in their own right. Similar to other key social institutions, their functions include shaping sets of values and reducing vulnerability and uncertainty. Furthermore, these organizations constitute an entirely necessary infrastructure for cooperation, which makes it possible for trust to be institutionalized, reinvested and converted into action, and which also demonstrates that cooperation is rational and yields results. The aftermath of the terror attacks in Norway in 2011demonstrated the existence of a strong civil society and its crucial role for community resilience. It contributed to curtailing widespread fear, mobilizing for collective manifestations of grief and restoring a sense of normalcy. However, the key role of civil society is not a permanent given. Developments within organized civil society may change their direct role as institutions and their indirect role as premise-setters and critical-correctors, particular in relation to the public sector. This may weaken the function of these organizations as key carriers of social trust.




How to Cite

Selle, P., & Wollebæk, D. (2015). The Complex Relationship Between Civil Society and Trust. Italian Sociological Review, 5(3), 273.