Whistleblowers are frequently heralded as heroes—courageous individuals who resist overwhelming pressure to disclose wrongdoing at work, often at great expense to their personal and professional lives. How did it come to be that individuals—stressed, anxious, and idiosyncratic but imagined as abstract and impartial vehicles for disclosure—have come to be seen as essential stewards of safety, integrity, the environment, and of democracy itself? If whistleblowers are important figures standing in the way of poisoned rivers, bank failures, and corrupted elections, it’s essential to understand who they have been—and who they are imagined to be. I examine the case of Ernest Fitzgerald, a civilian cost analyst at the United States Air Force. During the height of the US war in Vietnam, Fitzgerald revealed enormous overruns on an aircraft contract and was subsequently fired for his disclosures. Fitzgerald, the first iconic whistleblower in US political history, later became an important player in the passage of whistleblower and civil service reform legislation. I suggest that Fitzgerald’s performance of dispassionate, reluctant dissent resonated with cultural anxieties about the emasculating effects of bureaucracy. The political movement to protect whistleblowers that followed in the wake of Fitzgerald’s firing drew upon similar associations between dissent and manhood, suggesting that the legal codification of whistleblower protection has been inseparable from gendered ideas about rationality and fitness to speak on behalf of the public interest.
Hosted jointly with the Centre for Diaspora & Transnational Studies (CDTS) with the support of the Faculty of Arts & Science, the Labour and Humanities Seminar brings distinguished scholars in the humanities working on themes related to labour, globalization and employment relations to the University of Toronto to present and discuss their work. The seminars reflect an eclectic approach to the study of work across human history and culture and are intended to help build and reinforce interdisciplinary connections, both within CIRHR and in the wider University community.
Centre for Industrial Relations and Human Resources, Centre for Diaspora and Transnational Studies