Speaking truth to power? Theorizing whistleblowing
This workshop explores the relation between whistleblowing and forms of organizational power, and with critique. With the shocking revelations of Snowden and Wikileaks, and news of Manning’s mistreatment in custody, whistleblowing is a ‘hot topic’ in news debates. Even so, public perceptions of whistleblowers are rife with ambivalence; for some they represent ‘traitorous violators’ of a code of fidelity to their organization, suspicious figures who reject their obligations of loyalty to the employer, and dangerous tellers of secrets. Others view whistleblowers as heroes: martyrs to the cause of transparency and openness and the veritable ‘saints’ of today’s secular culture (Grant, 2002).
Where is organization theory in this? Specifically, how can we conceptualize the variable ways in which whistleblowing intersects with, challenges, and/ or reinforces structures of power and domination in today’s organizations? Organizational research into this area tends to be somewhat a-political, evaluating whistleblowing in terms of whether predefined rules defining employee disclosures have been followed. Studies in the field range from predicting the likelihood of whistleblowing occurring in a given organizational setting (Bjørkelo et al., 2010; Miceli, 2004), and creating typologies of motivations for why people speak up, to studying whistleblowing as an ongoing process rather than a one-off event and examining the kinds of retaliations and personal impacts that organizational whistleblowers suffer (Alford, 2001; Glazer and Glazer, 1989). Such approaches are valuable indeed for enhancing our understanding of whistleblowing as an experience, but where the focus is explicitly upon micro-level issues such as retaliation, motivation and personal impacts, there is a tendency to ignore the wider political and cultural context in which they occur.
Some scholars have explored the relation between whistleblowing and power, seeing the former as a type of organizational resistance (Martin, 1999; Vinten, 1994; Rothschild and Miethe, 1999), as caught up in societal discourses of domination (Perry, 1998), or as an instance of Foucault’s parrhesia (2001), in which the whistleblower risks all in the process of speaking ‘truth to power’ (Contu, 2014; Andrade, 2105; Weiskopf and Willmott, 2013; Weiskopf and Tobias-Miersch, 2016; Wildavsky, 1979). These examples notwithstanding, issues of power and domination are somewhat absent from extant literature in the field and as a result our theories of whistleblowing and its relation to organizational power are somewhat anaemic.
These omissions are important; academic research can shape public and policy debates and thus has a tangible impact on people’s lives (see for example ACCA, 2016). The ways in which whistleblowing is conceptualized within such research is therefore important to examine in depth, to critique, and to develop further where possible. Against this background, the ephemera collective will host a workshop on 14th December 2016 at Queen’s University Belfast. The focus is upon the possibilities and limitations of theorizing whistleblowing in relation to power along with the ethical and political consequences of this.
The event will be free to all participants by registration.
Confirmed speakers and preliminary program
10.45-11.45 Richard Weiskopf and Paul Zimmermann, ‘The construction and regulation of truth-telling in the discourse of anti-corruption: the example of Transparency International'
11.45-12.00 Tea and coffee
12.00-13.00 S. Hilary Anne Ivory, ‘Teasing the Minotaur from the labyrinth: Mytho-poetic analysis of the social experience of a handful of medical whistleblowers’
14.30-15.30 Wim Vandekerckhove and Marianna Fotaki, ‘Whistleblowing as truth-telling?: Parrhesia in organization theory'
15.30-15.45 Tea and coffee
15.45-16.30 Discussion and close
Evening Dinner and drinks
Venue: Old Staff Common Room, Lanyon Building, Queen’s University Belfast. See here for a map: http://ewh.ieee.org/r8/ukri/cis/Newsletters/QUB_Map%20-%20showing%20venue%20for%20DL.pdf
Organization and contact
This ephemera workshop is hosted by the Queen’s University Belfast Management School. To participate please let Kate (k.kenny [at] qub.ac.uk) know that you would like to join. The venue is located at Queen’s University Belfast.
Accommodation in Belfast
Malone Lodge: http://www.malonelodgehotelbelfast.com
Holiday Inn Express: http://www.hiexpressbelfast.com
And lots of places on AirBnB
Some other suggestions: http://visitbelfast.com/stay-in-belfast/accommodation
ACCA (2016) Effective speak-up arrangements for whistleblowers: A multi-case study on the role of responsiveness, trust, and culture. London, ACCA.
Alford, F. (2001) Whistleblowers: Broken lives and organizational power. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.
Andrade, J.A. (2015) ‘Reconceptualizing whistleblowing in a complex world’, Journal of Business Ethics, 128: 321-335.
Bjørkelo, B., S. Einarsen and S.B. Matthiesen (2010) ‘Predictive proactive behavior at work: Exploring the role of personality as an antecedent of whistleblowing behavior’, Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, 83: 371-394.
Contu, A. (2014) ‘Rationality and Relationality in the Process of Whistleblowing: Recasting Whistleblowing Through Readings of Antigone’, Journal of Management Inquiry, 23(4): 393-406.
Foucault, M. (2001) Fearless speech. Los Angeles: Semiotext(e).
Foucault, M. (2005) The hermeneutics of the subject: Lectures at the Collège de France, 1981-1982, (ed.) F. Gros, (trans.) G. Burchell. Houndmills: Palgrave Macmillan.
Glazer, M.P. and Glazer, P.M.(1989) The whistleblowers: Exposing corruption in government and industry. New York: Basic Books.
Grant, C. (2002) ‘Whistleblowers: Saints of secular culture’, Journal of Business Ethics, 39: 391-399.
Martin, B. (1999) ‘Whistleblowing and nonviolence: Activist paradigm’, Philosophy and Social Action 25: 5-18.
Miceli, M.P. (2004) ‘Whistle-blowing research and the insider: Lessons learned and yet to be learned’, Journal of Management Inquiry, 13(4): 364-366.
Perry, N. (1998) ‘Indecent Exposure: Theorizing whistleblowing’, Organization Studies, 19(2): 235-257.
Rothschild, J. and T.D. Miethe (1999) ‘Whistle-blower disclosures and management retaliation the battle to control information about organization corruption’, Work and Occupations, 26(1): 107-128.
Vinten, G. (1994) Whistleblowing, Subversion or corporate citizenship. London: Sage.
Weiskopf, R. and Y. Tobias-Miersch (2016) ‘Whistleblowing, parrhesia and the contestation of truth in the workplace’, Organization Studies, doi 10.1177/0170840616655497.
Wildavsky, A.B. (1979) Speaking truth to power: The act and craft of policy analysis. Boston: Little, Brown.
Willmott, H. and R. Weiskopf (2013) ‘Ethics as critical practice: The Pentagon papers, deciding responsibly, truth-telling, and the unsettling of organizational morality’, Organization Studies, 34(4): 469-493.