Many whistleblowers perform heroic acts, but not all whistleblowers are heroes. Motivation, method, and risk vary across whistleblower contexts. Although many whistleblowers portray aspects of archetypal heroism, research is needed to specify the qualities of heroic whistleblowers from non-heroic whistleblowers. The present study aims to develop an archetype of heroic whistleblowers. We identify five dimensions of whistleblowing heroism and then draw upon data from interviews that we conducted with 32 actual whistleblowers to provide examples of each element. We argue there are five dimensions of the whistleblowing process that distinguish heroic whistleblowers. The five dimensions include 1) motivation for blowing the whistle (altruistic vs. selfish), 2) complicity in the wrongdoing (bystander vs. complicit), 3) level of risk for exposing the wrongdoing (high risk vs. low risk), 4) whistleblower effect (efforts led to positive change vs. efforts produced little or no change), and 5) whistleblower willingness (they would blow the whistle again vs. they would not blow the whistle again). We argue whistleblowers exemplify heroism when they expose wrongdoing for altruistic reasons, are not complicit in the unethical behavior, they assume a high level of risk to their safety, reputation, or career, when their efforts lead to constructive changes, and when the whistleblower remains vigilant in their willingness to combat wrongdoing. We conclude by offering propositions, limitations, and future research possibilities.
Richardson, Brian K. and McGlynn, Joseph
"Constructing the Heroic Whistleblower: A Social Scientific Approach,"
Heroism Science: Vol. 6:
2, Article 1.
Available at: https://scholarship.richmond.edu/heroism-science/vol6/iss2/1