Taking trust online: Digitalisation and the practice of information sharing in diplomatic negotiations

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Can trust – a core element of diplomacy – be taken online and if so, how? This article starts form the concern that trust is tied to face-to-face diplomacy, which is challenged in digitalising settings. We adopt a practice theoretical lens and study diplomatic information sharing in the Council of the European Union. Drawing on fieldwork from 2018–2021, we find that digital tools are indispensable for trust's enactment and, contrary to commonly held assumptions, do not negatively impede diplomatic trust, per se. Theorising from how diplomats handle digital tools, we find that this leads to a renegotiation of the place and boundaries of trust in diplomatic work. First, we show how digital tools create both new opportunities for and challenges to diplomatic trust, though these opportunities are more accessible to some than others. Second, whereas trust is taken online, it is not easily built digitally. Third, digital tools lead to a rearticulation of the place of transparency and confidentiality in diplomatic negotiations. It pushes diplomats to reconsider what it means to share information in an (un)trustworthy manner. Altogether, these findings further our understanding of contemporary diplomatic practice and offer a refined conception of diplomatic trust.
Original languageEnglish
JournalReview of International Studies
Issue number4
Pages (from-to)637–656
Publication statusPublished - 2023

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