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Rage against the machine: moral anger in whistleblowing

Chris Mason (Centre for Social Impact Swinburne, Swinburne University of Technology, Hawthorn, Australia)
John Simmons (Liverpool Management School, University of Liverpool, Liverpool, UK)

Qualitative Research in Organizations and Management

ISSN: 1746-5648

Article publication date: 27 November 2018

Issue publication date: 13 September 2019



The purpose of this paper is to offer a theoretical framework of whistleblowing that gives due recognition to the emotional and reflexive processes that underpin it. Modes of anger are integrated into the model based on a reading of Geddes and Callister (2007), and developed by Lindebaum and Geddes (2016) work on moral anger.


The model is derived by interrogation of the extant literature on whistleblowing with due recognition accorded to emotional and reflexive dimensions that have been underrepresented in previous research. The model was tested by a qualitative study that uses memoir analysis to interrogate a board level whistle-blower’s account of the complex, traumatic and like-changing nature of his experience.


The paper identifies key stages in whistle-blower thinking before, during and subsequent to a decision to expose corporate wrongdoing. It demonstrates how emotional and reflexive processes influence a whistle-blower’s mode of anger expression, and how different perspectives by the whistle-blower and the focal organisation may view this expression as moral or deviant anger.

Research limitations/implications

The complexity of the whistleblowing process, together with possible alternative perspectives of it, makes identifying every influencing variable extremely challenging. Also, reliance on a whistle-blower’s own account of his experience means that recall may be partial or self-serving. The model can be used to analyse other whistle-blower accounts of their experience, and further confirm its applicability.


This is the first application of memoir analysis to a whistle-blower’s account of his experience that relates modes of anger expression to stages in the whistleblowing episode. It addresses a significant imbalance in whistleblowing research that hitherto has emphasised rationality in whistle-blower decision making and downplayed the influence of reflexivity and emotion.



Mason, C. and Simmons, J. (2019), "Rage against the machine: moral anger in whistleblowing", Qualitative Research in Organizations and Management, Vol. 14 No. 3, pp. 337-355.



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