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Trust, distrust and secrecy in secret organizations


The literature on organizational trust suggests that trust is necessary for functioning of most, if not all, organizations. In their paper, visiting professor Sabina Siebert from the University of Glasgow and Barbara Czarniawska discuss the issue of distrust in organizations, and analyze the most extreme example of a ‘distrustful’ organization - the secret service organization.

Distrust is crucial in the running of the secret service, but how do secret service organizations produce and maintain distrust? The authors analyse the devices, rules and procedures which are put in place in secret service organizations for that purpose. Having analyzed those, they ask another question – are these devices, rules and procedures different from those used by "ordinary" organizations?

The paper is based on the analysis of material collected in three museums of secret service organizations: Spy Museum in Berlin, International Spy Museum in Washington, and National Cryptologic Museum in Annapolis. As suggested by Latour (1992), it is technologies and physical objects that guarantee stability of connections between organizational actions. Following the growing tradition of applying actor-network theory approach to organization studies, the authors focus on tools used by organizations to create and maintain distrust and secrecy.

By drawing parallels between secret service organizations and ordinary organizations the authors suggest that a complete understanding of the ways contemporary organizations function requires a consideration of a mixture of trust and distrust. It could be that the mixture has become much more visible at present, during "the age of information", but the historical material may be helpful in understanding contemporary phenomena.

On Tuesday October 25, Sabina Siebert visiting professor of management from the University of Glasgow presents her research at a lunch seminar at Gothenburg Research Institute. 

Sabina Siebert has a background in linguistics, literature and cultural studies. She currently does research and teaches in the areas of human resource management, organizational change, organizational creativity and innovation. She is the Editor-in-Chief of the European Management Journal.