ASTK18236U Trust and distrust in International Relations

Volume 2019/2020

Bachelor student (2012 programme curriculum): 20 ECTS

Bachelor student (2017 programme curriculum): 15 ECTS

Master student: 15 ECTS


The current world order is disintegrating, changing the political landscape of international relations to one where distrust reigns. Particularly, the trust in institutions such as the UN, EU and NATO, is eroding. It is increasingly clear that often, when international negotiation and cooperation fail, a lack of trust is the decisive factor.


This course introduces key debates about trust in International Relations and the broader social sciences. We examine different approaches to trust and distrust from an interdisciplinary perspective (e.g. political science, social psychology, sociology and conflict studies) to understand and evaluate their relative importance for current world affairs.

We discuss trust in relation to other ‘big concepts’ within International Relations, including power, institutions, identity and culture. Moreover, the course examines trust in concrete instances of practice, e.g. in EU negotiations, NATO diplomacy and Iranian-American bilateral relations. At times, we zoom in on the individual level, for instance via in-class negotiation simulations. At other times, we zoom out and reflect on the workings of trust and distrust in relation to multilateral diplomatic contexts such as NATO and the EU.


At the end of this class, students will have acquired an interdisciplinary, practical framework for understanding trust and distrust in international relations.



Learning Outcome


  • Describe the main theoretical understandings of trust and distrust within International Relations and social science.
  • Understand and explain main differences between the various approaches.  
  • Evaluate the strengths, weaknesses and blind spots of arguments belonging to various approaches.



  • Present and analyze key trends, tensions and contradictions in international trust research in a concise way.
  • Combine and synthesize the ways in which the approaches envision trust and distrust.
  • Apply an interdisciplinary framework to empirical cases of (dis-)trust in international practice.



  • Critical thinking across different disciplines.
  • Constructing and defending a coherent argument.
  • Writing and presenting in a convincing and clear manner.
  • Developing negotiation skills during simulations.


This list is subject to change.A detailed list of required readings will be provided well ahead of the start of the course.


  • Adler, Emanuel & Michael Barnett (1998). “Security communities in theoretical perspective”, in: Emanuel Adler & Michael Barnett (eds.) Security Communities. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 3-29.


  • Adler-Nissen, Rebecca (2016). “Towards a Practice Turn in EU Studies: The Everyday of European Integration,” Journal of Common Market Studies 54(1): 87-103.


  • Hoffman, Aaron M. (2002). ‘A Conceptualization of Trust in International Relations’, European Journal of International Relations, 8 (3): 375-401.


  • Head, Naomi (2012). “Transforming Conflict: Trust, Empathy, and Dialogue,” International Journal of Peace Studies 17(2): 33-55.


  • Jervis, Robert (2017). How statesmen think. The psychology of international politics. Princeton: Princeton University Press.


  • Kydd, Andrew H. (2005). Trust and Mistrust in International Relations. Princeton: Princeton University Press.


  • Levi, Margaret & Laura Stoker (2000). “Political Trust and Trustworthiness,” Annual Review of Political Science 3: 475-507.


  • Lu, Serena Changhong, Dejun Tony Kong, Donald L. Ferrin & Kurt T. Dirks (2017). “What are the determinants of interpersonal trust in dyadic negotiations? Meta-analytic evidence and implications for future research,” Journal of Trust Research 7(1): 1-29.


  • Mayer, Roger C., James H. Davis & F. David Schoorman (1995). “An integrative model of organizational trust,” The Academy of Management Review 20(3): 709-734.


  • Michel, Torsten (2012). “Time to get emotional: Phronetic reflections on the concept of trust in International Relations,” European Journal of International Relations, 19(4): 869-890.


  • Möllering, Guido (2006). Trust: Reason, Routine, Reflexivity. Bingley: Emerald.


  • Neumann, Iver B. (2005). “To Be a Diplomat,” International Studies Perspectives 6: 72–93.


  • Pouliot, Vincent & Cornut, Jérémie Cornut (2015). ‘Practice theory and the study of diplomacy: A research agenda’, Cooperation and Conflict, 50 (3): 297-315.


  • Rathbun, Brian C. (2011). Trust in International Cooperation: International Security Institutions, Domestic Politics and American Multilateralism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


  • Ruzicka, Jan & Vincent Charles Keating (2015). ‘Going global: Trust research and international relations’, Journal of Trust Research, 5 (1): 8-26.


  • Sending, Ole Jacob, Vincent Pouliot & Iver B. Neumann (eds.) (2015). Diplomacy and the Making of World Politics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


  • Uslaner, Eric M. (2002). The Moral Foundations of Trust. Cambridge. Cambridge University Press.


  • Wheeler, Nicholas J. (2018). Trusting Enemies: Interpersonal Relationships in International Conflict. Oxford: Oxford University Press.


  • Williams, Michele (2001). “In Whom We Trust: Group Membership as an Affective Context for Trust Development,” The Academy of Management Review 26(3): 377-396.
Classes will be interactive. They will consist of a combination of brief lectures, including guest lectures, group discussions, student presentations, negotiation simulations and peer-review sessions.
  • Category
  • Hours
  • Class Instruction
  • 56
  • Total
  • 56
Continuous feedback during the course of the semester
Peer feedback (Students give each other feedback)
Type of assessment
Written assignment
Free assignment
Marking scale
7-point grading scale
Censorship form
No external censorship

Free written assignment

Criteria for exam assesment
  • Grade 12 is given for an outstanding performance: the student lives up to the course's goal description in an independent and convincing manner with no or few and minor shortcomings
  • Grade 7 is given for a good performance: the student is confidently able to live up to the goal description, albeit with several shortcomings
  • Grade 02 is given for an adequate performance: the minimum acceptable performance in which the student is only able to live up to the goal description in an insecure and incomplete manner