Whistleblowers: Broken Lives and Organizational Power
In a dark departure from our standard picture of whistleblowers, C. Fred Alford offers a chilling account of the world of people who have come forward to protest organizational malfeasance in government agencies and in the private sector. The conventional story―high-minded individual fights soulless organization, is persecuted, yet triumphs in the end―is seductive and pervasive. In speaking with whistleblowers and their families, lawyers, and therapists, Alford discovers that the reality of whistleblowing is grim. Few whistleblowers succeed in effecting change; even fewer are regarded as heroes or martyrs.
Alford mixes narrative analysis with political insight to offer a frank picture of whistleblowing and a controversial view of organizations. According to Alford, the organization as an institution is dedicated to the destruction of the moral individualist. Frequently, he claims, the organization succeeds, which means that the whistleblowers are broken, unable to reconcile their actions and beliefs with the responses they receive from others. In addition to being mistreated by organizations, whistleblowers often do not receive support from their families and communities. In order to make sense of their stories, Alford claims, some whistleblowers must set aside the things they have always believed: that loyalty is larger than the herd instinct, that someone in charge will do the right thing, that the family is a haven from a heartless world. Alford argues that few whistleblowers recover from their experience, and that, even then, they live in a world very different from the one they knew before their confrontation with the organization.
About the Author
C. Fred Alford is Professor of Government and Distinguished Scholar-Teacher at the University of Maryland. He is the author of Think No Evil: Korean Values in the Age of Globalization and What Evil Means to Us, both from Cornell, as well asTrauma, Culture, and PTSD,Trauma and Forgiveness: Consequences and Community, and many other books.
- Paperback: 192 pages
- Publisher: Cornell University Press; 1st edition (January 10, 2002)
“From interviews and support groups for whistleblowers, Alford learned that such support is sorely needed because society does not truly value ethical resisters.”―Book News, November 2001
“When I fortuitously received my review copy of this book the day before my Employment Law class was to consider the subject of whistleblowers, I expected to gain a few new insights that would deepen the class discussion. While this was true, it is wholly inadequate to describe the value of this extraordinary book. . . . Whistleblowers is a powerful philosophical examination that changes how one looks at the most fundamental institutions of our society.”―Ellen Dannin, California Western School of Law. Industrial and Labor Relations Review, April 2002, Vol. 55, No. 3
“Alford has written an imaginative, provocative,and occasionally frustrating book. . . . The list of whistleblower contributions to public safety and integrity is long. Alford alludes to little of this. These omissions, while notable, do not undermine the value of Alford’s critique of organizational practices to smother dissent or his account of the high price paid by ethical employees and their families. Alford’s exposure of the misuse of organizational power stands as a worthy challenge to theories of organizational democracy, and this is one of his main goals.”―Myron Peretz Glazer, Smith College. Contemporary Sociology, Vol. 31, No. 4
“Alford is concerned with why whistleblowers choose to go public and challenge their organizations, but he is also interested in what they have learned from their experiences. He is fascinated by the costs incurred by the ‘autonomous individual’ who confronts the organization, an entity that Alford says demands obedience, conformity, and loyalty. Instead of noble causes and vindication, Alford finds individuals who become isolated from co-workers, friends, and even family and who often admit that they would not repeat their actions if they had to do it over again.”―David Rouse. Booklist, April 2001
“Alford draws on a wide range of sources, from the stories of whistleblowers themselves to the writings of Max Weber, George Orwell, Emile Durkheim, Hannah Arendt, Michael Foucault, and others. He believes that the organization is dedicated to the destruction of the individual. The whistleblower is a politicized actor in a nonpolitical world, where feudal chiefs clash and loyalty is not to the organization or to the wider society, but only to one’s boss.”―Charles Willett, Counterpoise, Vol. 7. No. 1, Oct ’03
“Alford’s work must be considered mandatory reading for anyone serious about government, public service, business, ethics, or the professions. For those campaigning for ethics, Whistleblowers is discouraging, but for those who can overcome the ‘dread,’ it provides the impetus to begin the organizational discussion on whistleblowing.”―Craig S. MacMillan, Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Canadian Public Administration 46:2, Summer 2003
“While the existing literature on whistleblowers is useful, none of it is put in the context of social power and individual identity. Innovative and exciting, Whistleblowers will contribute importantly to our understanding of organizational control and dissent.”―Frank Anechiarico, Hamilton College
“Whistleblowers offers an almost completely different account of its subject matter than is found in any of the existing literature. As such, it is a significant original contribution. It is also an unremittingly dark book that shows how organizations, at their best, are neutral and benign and at all other times, are malevolent destroyers of the moral individual.”―Guy A. Adams, University of Missouri
“C. Fred Alford has put together a provocative and disturbing analysis of the lonely road of the whistleblower and the devastating societal and organizational consequences of speaking truths that governments and corporations want left unspoken. Whistleblowers raises fascinating and controversial questions about the few unlikely heroes in our midst and why their seemingly small acts of heroism make the rest of society so uncomfortable.”―Kate Bronfenbrenner, winner of the Labor Party’s first Karen Silkwood Award
It needs to be read by management in every organization so that they understand whistleblowers, and perhaps will deal with them differently. It needs to be read by those contemplating whistleblowing, although it would likely convince many not to act–and then where would the world be? I am a whistleblower, but early in the process. This book describes my feelings and the reaction of others to the point of being eerie. It has helped me understand what is happening. This makes Mr. Alford’s prediction of the likely outcomes very distressing. I believe my outcome will be different, but he says that is a common delusion among whistleblowers.
Although this book may discourage some, I find it quite helpful, that while any whistleblower may not experience all these things, many of them are still active in spite of all the laws against it. The author says there appears to be no social science characteristics that make us typical; I suggest for future research someone see if most of us cannot be classified as Myers-Briggs T people — “extreme logical thinkers,” as I am. That means we want to make most of our decisions on the basis of rational analysis instead of on how other people will feel. My only disagreement with the author is that my motive is not narcissist but rather satisfaction with having accomplished something very important, helping to make the Systems of society more efficient, even if I personally am not better off. Yes, the most serious potential victims (people who will be seriously injured and killed) I am working for are nameless, but I am also working for fair competition between firms, some of whom are now “cheating” (gaining a financial advantage) by breaking the law. At a time in our society when a long history of violations of regulations has occurred before the great disasters in the oil business, the mining business, the airline industry, and now even the egg business, it is imperative that society continue to pass laws that protect us. I plan to attempt to get protection for whistle blowers from trade association sanctions, by getting them declared an Antitrust violation when the organization is covered and the sanctions and process used meets the same characteristics as those declared illegal for employers.