International Handbook on Whistleblowing Research
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International Handbook on Whistleblowing Research

Edited by A. J. Brown, David Lewis, Richard E. Moberly and Wim Vandekerckhove

In the modern age of institutions, whistleblowing is now established as one of the most important processes – if not the single most important process – by which governments and corporations are kept accountable to the societies they are meant to serve. This essential Handbook provides researchers and policy makers from around the world with a comprehensive overview of the state of our knowledge regarding this vital process. In addition to drawing from the last 30 years of progressively more systematic research into whistleblowing, it also provides cutting-edge analysis of the conceptual and practical challenges that researchers will want to confront in the next decade.
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Chapter 3: Outsider ‘whistleblowers’: Conceptualizing and distinguishing ‘bell-ringing’ behavior

Marcia P. Miceli, Suelette Dreyfus and Janet P. Near


Precision is important in definitions of human behaviors, for practical reasons and also to allow careful empirical research comparing and contrasting these behaviors. Empirical research on whistleblowers typically relies on a widely used definition (King 1997), namely, that ‘whistle-blowers are organization members (including former members and job applicants) who disclose illegal, immoral, or illegitimate practices (including omissions) under the control of their employers, to persons or organizations who may be able to effect action’ (Near and Miceli 1985: 4). The use of a standard definition by most researchers has allowed empirical investigation of differences between whistleblowers and others reporting wrongdoing and also among different types of whistleblowers. Whistleblowing has been previously defined by researchers as involving several specific characteristics; however, the distinctions between whistleblowers and other individuals disclosing organizational wrongdoing can be subtle or ambiguous, often causing the media and other stakeholders to refer to all as ‘whistleblowers’. In this chapter we propose that when perceived organizational wrongdoing is reported by individuals who are not now and never were members of that organization (i.e., the focal organization), especially if seeking widespread dissemination of information about the perceived wrongdoing, then the antecedents of reporting, the process for reporting and the outcomes of reporting may be different than for whistleblowers. We propose the term ‘bell-ringers’, to distinguish these individuals from whistleblowers.

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