Whistleblowers: Broken Lives and Organizational Power

 by C. Fred Alford  (Author)

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

  • Paperback: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Cornell University Press; 1st edition (January 10, 2002)





Amazon Reviews
Required Reading
I suspect that the problem with this book is that it is mostly read by whistleblowers who’ve already acted.
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.

A whistleblower

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.

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