Journal of Business Ethics

, Volume 104, Issue 2, pp 237–249 | Cite as

Dissenting Discourse: Exploring Alternatives to the Whistleblowing/Silence Dichotomy

  • Hayden Teo
  • Donella CasperszEmail author


In recent times, whistleblowing has become one of the most popularly debated issues of business ethics. Popular discussion has coincided with the institutionalisation of whistleblowing via legal and administrative practices, supported by the emergence of academic research in the field. However, the public practice and knowledge that has subsequently developed appears to construct a dichotomy of whistleblowing/silence; that is, an employee elects either to ‘blow the whistle’ on organisational wrongdoing, or remain silent. We argue that this public transcript of whistleblowing/silence overshadows the importance of continuing research into alternative (individual or collective) employee behaviour. Drawing on original research with a financial services organisation, our research uncovers a dissenting discourse that operates through implicit communication, such as codes, sarcasm and jokes. We suggest that this hidden transcript offers significant opportunities for employees to act ethically, and offers the potential to sustain an ethical organisational culture.


Whistleblowing Dissent Ethical identity Discourse Foucault 


  1. Alford, C. F. (2001). Whistleblowers: Broken lives and organizational power. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.Google Scholar
  2. Barnett, T. (1992). A preliminary investigation of the relationship between selected organizational characteristics and external whistleblowing by employees. Journal of Business Ethics, 11(12), 949–959.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Barnett, T., Cochran, D., & Taylor, G. (1993). The internal disclosure policies of private-sector employers: An initial look at their relationship to employee whistleblowing. Journal of Business Ethics, 12(2), 127–136.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Berry, B. (2004). Organizational culture: A framework and strategies for facilitating employee whistleblowing. Employee Responsibilities and Rights Journal, 16(1), 1–11.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Boatright, J. R. (2007). Ethics and the conduct of business (5th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall.Google Scholar
  6. Bouma, G. D., & Atkinson, G. B. J. (1995). A handbook of social science research (2nd ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  7. Brown, A. J., & Donkin, M. (2008). Introduction. In A. J. Brown (Ed.), Whistleblowing in the Australian Public Sector: Enhancing the theory and practice of internal witness management in public sector organisations (pp. 1–22). Canberra: ANU E Press.Google Scholar
  8. Burrell, G. (1998). Modernism, postmodernism and organizational analysis: The contribution of Michel Foucault. In A. McKinlay & K. Starkey (Eds.), Foucault, management and organizational theory: From panopticon to technologies of self (pp. 14–28). London: Sage Publications Ltd.Google Scholar
  9. Caldwell, R. (2007). Agency and change: Re-evaluating Foucault’s legacy. Organization, 14(6), 769–791.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Callahan, E. S., Dworkin, T. M., & Lewis, D. (2004). Australian, UK, and US approaches to disclosure in the public interest. Virginia Journal of International Law, 44(3), 879–912.Google Scholar
  11. Collinson, D. L. (2003). Identities and insecurities: Selves at work. Organization, 10(3), 527–547.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Dawson, S. (2000). Whistleblowing: a broad definition and some issues for Australia. Available from: 19 August 2008.
  13. De Maria, W. (1995). Public interest disclosure laws in Australia and New Zealand: Who are they really protecting? Alternative Law Journal, 20(6), 270–281.Google Scholar
  14. De Maria, W., & Jan, C. (1997). Eating its own: The whistleblower’s organization in vendetta mode. Australian Journal of Social Issues, 32(1), 37–59.Google Scholar
  15. Dean, M. (1994). “A social structure of many souls”: Moral regulation, government, and self-formation. Canadian Journal of Sociology, 19(2), 145–168.Google Scholar
  16. Dean, M. (1995). Governing the unemployed self in an active society. Economy and Society, 24(4), 559–583.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Dean, M. (1999). Governmentality: Power and rule in modern society. London: Sage Publications Ltd.Google Scholar
  18. Findlay, P., & Newton, T. (1998). Re-framing Foucault: The case of performance appraisal. In A. McKinlay & K. Starkey (Eds.), Foucault, management and organizational theory: From panopticon to technologies of self (pp. 211–229). London: Sage Publications Ltd.Google Scholar
  19. Foucault, M. (1980). Truth and power. In C. Gordon (Ed.), Power/knowledge: Selected interviews and other writings 1972-1977 (pp. 109–133). Brighton: The Harvester Press.Google Scholar
  20. Foucault, M. (1982). Afterword: The subject and power. In H. L. Dreyfus & P. Rabinow (Eds.), Michel Foucault: Beyond structuralism and hermeneutics (2nd ed., pp. 208–226). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  21. Foucault, M. (1990). The history of sexuality, Vol. 3: The care of the self. London: Penguin Books.Google Scholar
  22. Foucault, M. (1991a). Discipline and punish: The birth of the prison (3rd ed.). London: Penguin Books Ltd.Google Scholar
  23. Foucault, M. (1991b). On the genealogy of ethics: An overview of work in progress. In P. Rabinow (Ed.), The Foucault reader (2nd ed., pp. 340–372). London: Penguin Books.Google Scholar
  24. Foucault, M. (1991c). Panopticism. In P. Rabinow (Ed.), The Foucault reader (2nd ed., pp. 206–213). London: Penguin Books.Google Scholar
  25. Giddens, A. (1984). The constitution of society. Cambridge: Polity Press.Google Scholar
  26. Greenberger, D., Miceli, M., & Cohen, D. (1987). Oppositionists and group norms: The reciprocal influence of whistle-bowers and co-workers. Journal of Business Ethics, 6(7), 527–542.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Hassink, H., de Vries, M., & Bollen, L. (2007). A content analysis of whistleblowing policies of leading European companies. Journal of Business Ethics, 75(1), 25–44.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Holder-Webb, L., Cohen, J., Leda, N., & Wood, D. (2008). A survey of governance disclosures among US firms. Journal of Business Ethics, 83(3), 543–563.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Hollinger, R. C., & Clark, J. P. (1982). Formal and informal social controls of employee deviance. The Sociological Quarterly, 23(3), 333–343.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. King, G. (1999). The implications of an organization’s structure on whistleblowing. Journal of Business Ethics, 20(4), 315–326.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Kondo, D. (1990). Crafting selves: Power, gender, and discourses of identity in a Japanese workplace. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  32. Kumar, R. (1996). Research methodology: A step-by-step guide for beginners. Melbourne: Addison Wesley Longman Australia Pty Ltd.Google Scholar
  33. Lemke, T. (2001). “The birth of bio-politics”: Michel Foucault’s lecture at the College de France on neo-liberal governmentality. Economy and Society, 30(2), 190–207.Google Scholar
  34. McHoul, A., & Grace, W. (1997). A Foucault primer: Discourse, power and the subject. New York: New York University Press.Google Scholar
  35. McLain, D., & Keenan, J. (1999). Risk, information, and the decision about response to wrongdoing in an organization. Journal of Business Ethics, 19(3), 255–271.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Mesmer-Magnus, J., & Viswesvaran, C. (2005). Whistleblowing in organizations: An examination of correlates of whistleblowing intentions, actions, and retaliation. Journal of Business Ethics, 62(3), 277–297.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Miceli, M., & Near, J. (1984). The relationship among beliefs, organizational position, and whistle-blowing status: A discriminant analysis. The Academy of Management Journal, 27(4), 687–705.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Miceli, M., & Near, J. (1985). Characteristics of organizational climate and perceived wrongdoing associated with whistle-blowing decisions. Personnel Psychology, 38(3), 525–544.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Miceli, M., & Near, J. (1988). Individual and situational correlates of whistle-blowing. Personnel Psychology, 41(2), 267–281.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Miceli, M., & Near, J. (1992). Blowing the whistle: The organizational and legal implications for companies and employees. New York: Lexington Books.Google Scholar
  41. Miceli, M., Near, J., & Schwenk, C. (1991). Who blows the whistle and why? Industrial and Labor Relations Review, 45(1), 113–130.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Mizutani, H. (2007). Whistleblower protection act. Japan Labor Review, 4(3), 95–119.Google Scholar
  43. Nader, R., Petkas, P. J., & Blackwell, K. (1972). Whistle blowing: The report of the conference on professional responsibility. New York: Grossman.Google Scholar
  44. Near, J., & Dworkin, T. M. (1998). Responses to legislative changes: Corporate whistleblowing policies. Journal of Business Ethics, 17(14), 1551–1561.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Near, J., & Miceli, M. (1996). Whistle-blowing: Myth and reality. Journal of Management, 22(3), 507–526.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Perrucci, R., Anderson, R. M., Schendel, D. E., & Trachtman, L. E. (1980). Whistle-blowing: Professionals’ resistance to organizational authority. Social Problems, 28(2), 149–164.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Punch, K. F. (1998). Introduction to social research: Quantitative and qualitative approaches. London: Sage Publications Ltd.Google Scholar
  48. Richards, L. (2005). Handling qualitative data: A practical guide. London: Sage Publications.Google Scholar
  49. Saunders, M., Lewis, P., & Thornhill, A. (2003). Research methods for business students (3rd ed.). Harlow: Pearson Education Ltd.Google Scholar
  50. Sawyer, K. (2004). Courage without mateship. Paper presented at the 2004 National Conference of Whistleblowers Australia. Available from: 23 March 2008.
  51. Scott, J. (1985). Weapons of the weak: Everyday forms of peasant resistance. New Haven: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
  52. Scott, J. (1990). Domination and the arts of resistance: Hidden transcripts. New Haven: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
  53. Scott, P. (2007). Whistleblowers wanted. Journal of Accountancy, 203(5), 86.Google Scholar
  54. Simpson, J., & Weiner, E. (Eds.) (1989). The Oxford English Dictionary, (Vol. 4, pp. 750–751). Oxford: Clarendon Press.Google Scholar
  55. Sims, R., & Keenan, J. (1998). Predictors of external whistleblowing: Organizational and intrapersonal variables. Journal of Business Ethics, 17(4), 411–421.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Singleton, R. A., Straits, B. C., & Straits, M. M. (1993). Approaches to social research (2nd ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  57. Standards Australia. (2004). AS 8004–2003: Whistleblower protection programs for entities. Sydney: Standards Australia International.Google Scholar
  58. Van Dijk, T. A. (2001). Critical discourse analysis. In D. Schiffrin, D. Tannen, & H. E. Hamilton (Eds.), The handbook of discourse analysis (pp. 352–371). Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing.Google Scholar
  59. Vandekerckhove, W. (2006). Whistleblowing and organizational social responsibility: A global assessment. Hampshire, England: Ashgate Publishing Ltd.Google Scholar
  60. Vandekerckhove, W., & Commers, M. (2004). Whistle blowing and rational loyalty. Journal of Business Ethics, 53(1–2), 225–233.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Vaughn, R. G. (2005). America’s first comprehensive statute protecting corporate whistleblowers. Administrative Law Review, 57(1), 1–105.Google Scholar
  62. Warren, D. (2006). Ethics initiatives: The problem of ethical subgroups. In A. Tenbrunsel (Ed.), Ethics in groups (pp. 83–100). Oxford: Elsevier Ltd.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Wood, G. (2002). A partnership model of corporate ethics. Journal of Business Ethics, 40(1), 61–73.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Zipparo, L. (1999). Encouraging public sector employees to report workplace corruption. Australian Journal of Public Administration, 58(2), 83–93.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Allens Arthur RobinsonMelbourneAustralia
  2. 2.Business SchoolUniversity of Western AustraliaNedlandsAustralia

Personalised recommendations