The encouragement to 'dare to know' (Holt & den Hond, 2013) in organization studies has been equated with the "experience of respecting and upending the world into which we are thrown through enquiry" (p. 1587). But daring to know is not tantamount to daring to speak one’s mind with courage and directness, let alone voicing uncomfortable truths to those in power.
In this sub-theme, we are interested both in what propels individuals to explore provocative terrains of knowledge and to articulate arguments and views that are likely to entail significant risks for them individually, while doing so is often of utmost social value (e.g., to blow the whistle on immoral business activities). This raises topical questions vis-à-vis prominent whistleblowing cases in the media. Why is it that some individuals, against institutional and peer pressures, decide to speak truth to power? As a political statement, speaking truth to power does not merely reflect the moral imperative not to lie but, equally important, to speak out against moral transgressions.
We interpret organizing for the greater good in the spirit of questioning established assumptions, speaking out against injustice and resisting the temptation of a quiet life through silence (Raftopoulou & Lindebaum, 2013). This has become increasingly difficult in our times, when safety and security are regularly invoked as justifications for suppressing inquiry and dissent. The high profile case of Edward Snowden and his revelations of wide-spread surveillance by US security organizations have brought these issues to the public's attention. He and other whistleblowers represent our current cultural archetype of the individual who speaks with parrhesia (i.e., the courage to make accessible for public scrutiny 'dangerous' or unpalatable views and facts). As Foucault has argued "parrhesia is a kind of verbal activity where the speaker has a specific relation to truth through frankness, a certain type of relationship to his own life through danger, a certain type of relation to himself or other people through criticism (self-criticism or criticism of other people), and a specific relation to moral law through freedom and duty" (Foucault & Pearson, 2001: 19).
Individuals who speak truth to power risk not only personal vilification, scapegoating and smearing, but also losing their friends and families, suffering exclusions and public humiliation. Yet, can organizational or national interests be serviced through the dissemination of lies and the suppression of uncomfortable truths? In the Kantian tradition of ethics, what would be the meaning of lies in a world where no one is ever expected to tell the truth? In the absence of truth, transactional costs of society increase, thereby negatively affecting inter and intra-organizational processes.
Speaking truth to power has extensive consequences for organizational order and stability, regardless of whether the truths spoken are literal truths (facts), normative truths (values) or emotional truths (truly felt emotions). For instance, being genuine in expressing how one feels about certain situation (that is, speaking truthfully) at work is a delicate act – it can help sustain or destabilize the social order (Fineman, 2001).
In times of national, international and organizational mistrust, when conspiracy theories easily proliferate and paranoid fears take hold of people, speaking truth to power is neither easy nor straightforward. Yet, its contribution to the greater public good has never been more urgently needed. In the spirit of this, we are inviting contributions exploring some of the following issues:
Please note that there is also an associated call for papers for a special issue in the Journal of Business Ethics, entitled "Moral Emotions and Ethics in Organizations". The deadline is March 1, 2015.
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