Interests and credibility: Whistleblowers in technological conflicts

  • Bernstein M
  • Jasper J
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Abstract

Accompanying the increase in technical controversies in the last 20 years has been an explosion of whistleblowing by those involved in the design, implementation, and operation of complex technologies. Whistleblowers provide a window onto the trade-off, in the construction of social problems, between one's credibility and the pursuit of one's interests. Whistleblowers gain credibility for speaking out contrary to their own interests and those of their employers, but they lack the organizational power to promote their definitions of the social problem. Typically the result of a conflict between professional ethics and organizational demands, whistleblowing can heighten controversy and provide ammunition for critics of a technology. A few prominent whistleblowers, blacklisted in their industry, even turn to social movement organizations for employment, though by normal predictors of activism they should be the last to join the movement. Examples drawn from the nuclear power industry are used to demonstrate the importance of whistleblowers in technical controversies.

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Authors

  • Mary Bernstein

  • James M. Jasper

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