27 May 2014

Folding and Unfolding Information, Trust, and Knowledge.

I haven't been posting much to The Topophilian lately because I've been busy working towards my dissertation deadline. That's right, dissertating. Every day and every night (almost). Below is a sample from my chapter on trusted sources of information. Enjoy! JTS

People typically turn to trusted sources of information when seeking answers to urgent questions as well as for mundane or technical scientific questions. As individuals, we live in an information environment deeply embedded within the day-to-day reality of our physical and social environments. These intersect through written, spoken, nonverbal, and mediated information, facilitating meaning making for abstract concepts and potentially elevating the physical world to the metaphoric plane of symbolic interactionism.

One’s information environment extends from personal to social in a dynamic and heterogeneous assemblage of experience, context, and meaning, constantly folding and unfolding (a la Delueze, 2000) as new information enters to replace or extend what was previously known and felt about the external world.

In the abstract, knowledge exists in multiplicity. There are not only many things to know, but many ways of knowing. Varying levels of knowledge and ignorance exist for both experts and non-experts. To claim to “know” about some issue is essentially to say: “From where I sit, it looks this way.” The influence of knowledge on perceptions of technological or corporeal risks and benefits is socially situated, culturally influenced, moderated by predisposition, processed through existing mental models, and bounded by experience, exposure and attention to information. Trust is similarly affected.

Trust may formulate affectively, pre-consciously, but it can percolate to a level of subjective analysis. Even if we often do not take the time to elaborate on the reasons behind our trust feelings, it is available to us by degrees.

Hardin (2001) points out a few conceptual confusions about trust that should be kept in mind. First, trust is not epistemologically primitive; it is available for subjective analysis. Trust is also not simply a matter of behavior. Rather, it is a function of knowledge or beliefs. Hardin also suggests that trust is neither a one- or two-part relation but can be conceived as a three part relation signifying that, for example, I trust you to do some thing. In other words, it is conditional and relative to context and rarely, if ever, universal or absolute. Second, trust should not be conflated with trustworthiness. Trust often begets trustworthiness, but it is a socially influenced psychological process whereas trustworthiness is a characteristic value judgment placed in a person or institution.

There may be a generalized “social trust” that people develop over time which esteems positive value on others or social institutions but, generally, trust is conceived as being grounded in specific past, present, or future relationships with other actors in the social sphere. Trust in institutions of risk management seems to be an important factor in perception and acceptance of risk as well as a prerequisite for effective risk communication (Poortinga & Pidgeon, 2003).

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Deleuze, G. (2000) Foucault. University of Minnesota Press.

Hardin, R. (2001). Conceptions and explanations of trust. In K. S. Cook (Ed.), Trust in society (Vol. 2, pp. 3–39). New York, NY: Russell Sage Foundation.

Poortinga, W., & Pidgeon, N. F. (2003). Exploring the dimensionality of trust in risk regulation. Risk Analysis, 23(5), 961–972.