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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Confiding in strangers : negotiating trust in mental health service consumption in China Qin, Siqi


Research on trust in economic transactions have formed a dichotomous conceptualization of trust as motivated by either economic rationality or emotional intimacy, neglecting other possibilities of trust. Drawing on Simmel’s theorization of the Stranger and Zelizer’s relational perspective, I argue that “stranger trust” is a type of trust that rests on the interactional presentation of objectivity and emotional neutrality. Using interview data with mental health service consumers in China, I address the question: how do participants of therapeutic relationships form trust under the unfavorable institutional environments for mental health services in China? My findings show that participants in therapeutic relationships create trust by framing the service provider as “Strangers”, which is established through three interactional processes 1) identifying affinities and differences, 2) protecting social distance, and 3) depersonalizing emotions. From the clients’ perspective, these interactional processes mitigate the risk posed by a lack of institutional regulation for mental health service provision. This study calls attention to how relational practices create and maintain trust in settings with weak institutional supports for trust.

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