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 7: Whistleblowing and power

Kim Loyens and Jeroen Maesschalck


Whistleblowing is a complex phenomenon that is inextricably linked to power relations within organizations. This results from organizational power relationships often being asymmetric and dynamic (Pfeffer and Salancik 1978). Staff members who decide to blow the whistle mostly lack the authority to change organizational misbehavior in any other way and therefore have to rely on informal bases of power (Elliston 1982; Weinstein 1979; Near and Miceli 1985).This informal power should, however, not be under-estimated. Whistleblowers who are not heard within their organization might turn to external reporting channels, possibly leading to bad publicity and other damage for the organization (Parmerlee et al. 1982). Moreover, whistleblowers who decide to exit the organization take with them knowledge and experience that are valuable for the organization. The latter can be linked to the resource dependence theory, which states that resources are controlled by some parties and that other parties depend on these resources (Pfeffer and Salancik 1978). Miceli and Near (2002: 458) explain that whistleblowers who possess ‘unique skills, secrets, or other resources the organization needs and cannot easily replace’ can more effectively blow the whistle because the organization is dependent on them. In that sense, whistleblowing has also been called a political action (Farrell and Petersen 1982) in which dependent actors in an organization reverse their dependency by challenging actors with authority to deal with organizational misbehavior (Near and Miceli 1985). Dependent actors then aim at a redistribution of power or benefits within the organization (Farrell and Petersen 1982; Cavanagh et al. 1981).

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