Censored: Whistleblowers and impossible speech
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Kenny, Kate. (2018). Censored: Whistleblowers and impossible speech. Human Relations, 71(8), 1025-1048. doi: 10.1177/0018726717733311
What happens to a person who speaks out about corruption in their organization, and finds themselves excluded from their profession? In this article, I argue that whistleblowers experience exclusions because they have engaged in â impossible speechâ , that is, a speech act considered to be unacceptable or illegitimate. Drawing on Butlerâ s theories of recognition and censorship, I show how norms of acceptable speech working through recruitment practices, alongside the actions of colleagues, can regulate subject positions and ultimately â un-doâ whistleblowers. In turn, they construct boundaries against â unethicalâ others who have not spoken out. Based on in-depth empirical research on financial sector whistleblowers, the article departs from existing literature that depicts the excluded whistleblower as a passive victim â a hollow stereotype. It contributes to organization studies in a number of ways. To debates on Butlerâ s recognition-based critique of subjectivity in organizations, it yields a performative ontology of excluded whistleblower subjects, in which they are both â derealizedâ by powerful norms, and compelled into ongoing and ambivalent negotiations with self and other. These insights contribute to a theory of subjective derealization in instances of â impossible speechâ , which provides a more nuanced conception of excluded organizational subjects, including blacklisted whistleblowers, than previously available.