Trust in (re)socializing interactions #TIES

When it comes to helping vulnerable people researchers and practitioners agree that trust is key. However, knowledge about what trust looks like in practice is very limited. This project examines trust in interaction between socially disadvantaged citizens and employees at social institutions. The aim of the project is twofold: 1) to conceptualize trust as an interactional social phenomenon and identify observable interactional indicators of participants orientation to (dis)trust in order to develop an assessment instrument for trust in situ and 2) together with social workers develop pedagogical tools of reflection and resources for training that will enable employees to practice trust and lead trust building conversations.

Using video ethnographic methods TIES investigates how trust as an interactional phenomenon is achieved, maintained or lost in encounters between practitioners and the citizens they are employed to aid and support. The citizens that TIES targets are amongst the most vulnerable in our society: They are convicted offenders and/or have a dual diagnosis (mental illness and substance use disorder). In the communications training that social workers receive trust is typically treated as a “black box” and therefore difficult to operationalize in practice. TIES uses videos of real interactions as a basis for developing both a new theoretical model of what trust looks like as an interactional phenomenon and for developing interaction tools, that will equip the practitioners to better involve and support vulnerable citizens to realize own goals and participate in meaningful communities in- and outside the institution.


TIES' approach to trust is rooted in ethnomethodology (EM) and Garfinkel's considerations of trust as the ontological foundation of all human interaction. In recent years, EM and Conversation Analytic (CA) studies has contributed radically new perspectives on how trust is achieved and negotiated in social interaction. With a theoretical position in EM/CA applying multimodal interaction analysis to video ethnographic data TIES focuses on the achievement of practical trust in and as interactional practice. The most recent and so far, most extensive EM/CA study on trust, where interactional indicators of trustworthiness in primarily institutional settings are identified, was carried out by TIES' Co-PI and PI.



The project consists of two integrated sub-projects (SP) that addresses eight research questions (RQ):

Sub-project 1

This project concerns the empirical investigation and theoretical conceptualization of trust and distrust as empirically observable, interactional phenomena as well as the possibilities for formally assessing the participants orientation to building or negotiating trust in a specific encounter.

SP1 addresses the following RQs

  • RQ1: What do conversations characterized by trust and distrust between staff and residents/inmates look like?
  • RQ2: What interactional indicators of trust and distrust can be identified in these conversations?
  • RQ3: Where in interaction can mistrust be located, where does the interaction ‘go wrong’ and trust diminish, and what could alternative interactional strategies be?
  • RQ5: What does an empirically grounded theoretical conceptualization of trust as an interactional phenomenon in social work look like?
  • RQ6: How can the degree of trust and distrust in a given interaction between staff and residents/inmates be measured via observable indicators?

Sub-project 2

This project is concerned with the development, testing, and implementing of reflective interactional and pedagogical tools in the partnering institutions and with developing leaning and training materials the social and pedagogical diploma programs at the University Campuses in Denmark, as well as Continuing and Professional Education Courses at University of Copenhagen.

SP2 concerns the following RQs

  • RQ3: Where in interaction can mistrust be located, where does the interaction ‘go wrong’ making trust diminish, and what could alternative interactional strategies be?
  • RQ4: What reflective conversational tools can support trusting conversations between staff and residents?
  • RQ7: How can the project's results be communicated so that practitioners can learn to identify key points in a conversation and train appropriate reflexive conversation strategies?
  • RQ8: How can the project's methods and results be scaled to other institutions?



Visiting professors

Two professoes will be participating as senior scholars in the project with their extensive expertise in EM/CA:

Professor in sociology Anssi Peräkyla (AP), visiting professor from University of Helsinki.

AP’s research topics include counselling and psychotherapy, facial expressions, the interconnections between the organization of social interaction and autonomous nervous system responses as well as interactional practices associated to self and personality disorders. Peräkylä is also a practicing psychotherapist.

Professor in sociology and linguistics Geoffrey Raymond (GR), visiting professor from University of Santa Barbara.

GR uses detailed analyses of large databases of video-recordings to examine talk and visible conduct in interaction and has studied high-risk-low-trust-interactions such as between police officers and arrested suspects and holds substantial insights into anger-dampening interactional practices.

Research advisory board

With their expertise in EM/CA, practical trust, and conflicts the Research Advisory Board will work as sounding board on both theory development and with identification of key leaning points for the instructional material.

  • Professor Elizabeth Stokoe, University of Loughborough
  • Professor Eric Laurier, University of Edinborough
  • Professor Jonathan Potter, Rutgers University
  • Professor Esther González-Martínez, Université de Fribourg
  • Professor Tanya Karoli Kristensen, University of Copenhagen




Name Title Phone E-mail
Nielsen, Ann Merrit Rikke Assistant Professor +4535337181 E-mail
Nielsen, Mie Femø Professor +4535328356 E-mail
NN          Postdoc


Minke, Linda Kjær Seniorforsker Professor M.S.O. at Faculty of Law, University of Southern Denmark

Other staff

Manager of the sychiatric supported housing facility Lioba Martin Pedersen (MP) will work in the project for 6 months

CEO of Café Exit Peter Dexters (PD) will work in the project for 6 months

MP and PD will coordinate the practitioner participation in both data collection and leaning material development at the institutions, aid the development of the leaning materials, and are in charge of for supporting both the testing and the long term implementation of the new improved interactional practices among the staff.

A number of practitioners from Lioba and Café Exit will work in the project for a total of 15 months, participating in data collection and co-creation, testing and evaluation of leaning materials.


Picture: Velux_foundations-235x87.png

The project is funded with 5,5 million DKK and the pilot project was granted 100.000 DKK all from THE VELUX FUNDATIONS.

Project period: 2023-2026

PI: Ann Merrit Rikke Nielsen

Co-PI: Mie Femø Nielsen

Social institutional partners

The project is carried out a close collaboration with the following. 

Bofællesskabet Lioba (in Danish) – Municipality of Frederiksberg.
A psychiatric supported housing facility for vulnerable citizens with dual diagnosis understood as both a psychiatric diagnosis and an active substance use.

Café Exit
A close and long-term collaborator with Kriminalforsorgen (The Danish correctional services) Café Exit is a social association targeted at prisoners and people released from prison whom have decided to make a fresh start.