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11 - Silencing Whistleblowers

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  30 June 2019

Amy Jo Murray
University of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa
Kevin Durrheim
University of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa
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Whistleblowers speak out about illegal or unethical actions at work. One of most striking aspects of listening to whistleblowers is how they feel silenced. As one whistleblower put it, "They wouldn't talk about it, and they wouldn't talk about not talking about it." Silence does not just mean the absence of speech. Silence means that one party to the dialogue refuses to engage the other. Whistleblowers try to talk about what the organization is doing. Their bosses will only talk about the whistleblowers and their problems. "Nuts and sluts" is the name given to this strategy by experienced whistleblowers, in which the goal of the organization is to turn the issue into one of the mental health or morality of the whistleblower. What is unsaid, what cannot be spoken, is almost always the moral and ideological corruption of the organization. Corruption means the loss of an organization's mission. Society is a conspiracy of silence against those who cross an invisible boundary that most of us will not recognize, for to do so would establish our willingness to do almost anything to belong.

Qualitative Studies of Silence
The Unsaid as Social Action
, pp. 206 - 222
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2019

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