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Maynooth University Social Sciences Institute

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Kate Kenny is Professor of Business & Society at the J.E. Cairns School of Business at NUI Galway. Professor Kenny’s research focuses on identity, affect, power and whistleblowing in organizations. She has held research fellowships at Cambridge University's Judge Business School and the Edmond J. Safra Ethics Centre at Harvard University. Professor Kenny's work has been published in Organization Studies, Gender Work and Organizations, Organization ephemera and Human Relations. Her books include Understanding Identity and Organizations (Sage 2011, with A. Whittle and H. Willmott), and Affect at Work: The Psychosocial and Organization Studies (Palgrave 2014, with M. Fotaki). Her forthcoming book, Whistleblowing: Toward a New Theory, will be published by Harvard University Press in 2019.

The seminar will consist of two parts. The first will be a presentation on whistleblowing theory which will address the following areas.

How can emerging theories of affect and subjectivity help us to reconceptualize organizational resistance? Current research on whistleblowing tends to perceive people who speak out about wrongdoing as autonomous individuals acting alone. This contributes to a persistent characterization of whistleblowers as extra-ordinary and unusual individuals, which impedes public empathy and support for those who find themselves in this position. How might we move beyond this, and how can theories of affect help us to do so? ‘Whistleblowing: Toward a New Theory’ (Harvard University Press, 2019) draws on empirical data from financial sector whistleblowers who suffered reprisals for speaking out. Even for those who emerge apparently intact at the end of what can be a very difficult process, the resulting ‘self’ has often been radically transformed.

And yet subjects appear to persist, to some degree, to tell their stories. What enables this persistence, this apparent survival that is not survival in the typical sense of the word, but a struggle that can change the self in unpredictable ways? In this book various sources of support are explored alongside the ways in which these contribute to people’s ability to endure. Judith Butler’s work on subjectivity, affect and power helps to theorize these issues and to develop a new framing for how we understand organizational whistleblowers. Recognition offered to the whistleblower by valued others is vital in helping to construct a subject position that is somewhat liveable; it offers a sense of comfort, in contrast to the stigmatization people often experience. Diverging from typical accounts of whistleblower support, valued sources of help are neither outside of the whistleblower, as separate entities, nor are they inside as for example an inner well of strength, but rather the whistleblower as subject is porous at the boundary. She comes into being as an already-attached, multiple subject. Affective attachments enable this struggle as subjects perform and re-work their whistleblower selves during the often-lengthy process of speaking out. Attachments are not limited to proximate, face-to-face others but encompass virtual connections enabled by ICTs, religious faith and to people not even alive today. Against the backdrop of the financial services sector, in which powerful norms of complicity persist, this book explores the obstacles – and affordances-- that accompany the ongoing construction of the whistleblower subject.

Following this presentation, the second hour will take the form of a brief workshop / seminar where Professor Kenny will discuss research approaches to whistleblowing with scholars who interested in, or already involved in the field.

For more information, please contact John Cullen at Maynooth University School of Business; john.g.cullen@mu.ie

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