45: Fate of Whistleblowers – C. Fred Alford

With Special Guest Dr. Marianna Fotaki

C. Fred Alford

The ability to speak up and do what’s right is embedded in our claimed social norms. Like cheering on an underdog in sport, we might be inspired by stories of those who witness illegal or immoral acts and have the courage and persistence to speak up and stand for what is right. In workplace environments, we have a name for such heroic men and women – whistleblowers. Some were famous, like Mark Felt who blew the whistle on Watergate in 1974 that would quickly end an American Presidency, and the trio of women who exposed the lies and fraudulent financial dealings that brought down Enron, Inc. in 2001. Their stories became legendary and they would be hailed as heroes. But historically, these are the exceptions. The experiences of many other whistleblowers are discouraging – being ostracized, ignored, harassed, marginalized, physically attacked, socially isolated and ultimately defeated while the wrongdoers continue with their organizations.

Fred Alford wrote the book Whistleblowers: Broken Lives and Organizational Power in 2001 to understand and make sense of these experiences. Rather than a detailed telling of the whistleblowers’ stories, the book expands upon them to develop an alternative theory of organizations and their use of power. By alternating between the individuals’ and organizations’ perspective, Alford’s book challenged conventional wisdom about the nature and character of power and politics, ethics and morality, and the individual’s motivations for standing up.

Joining us for this episode is Dr. Marianna Fotaki, Professor of Business Ethics at the Warwick Business School. In 2018, Marianna co-authored a paper on the weaponization of the mental health system against whistleblowers, furthering dialogue on a troubling matter that Alford raises in his book.

Listen as the podcasters discuss the stories of whistleblowers presented in the book and the theories that Alford produces from them.

You may also download the audio files here:  Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 

Read with us:

Alford, C. F. (2001). Whistleblowers: Broken Lives and Organizational Power. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.

To know more:

Kenny, K., Fotaki, M. and Scriver, S. (2018). “Mental health as a weapon : whistleblower retaliation and normative violence“, Journal of Business Ethics

Fotaki, M. (2017). Turning Fear to Purpose, TEDx Talk.

Fotaki, M. and Harding, N. (2015). Gender and the Organization. Women at Work in the 21st Century. London: Routledge.