The power of silence: silencing as a method of preventing whistleblowing

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The article discusses silencing as an obstacle to whistleblowing in the field of social work. Silencing seeks to prevent reporting or discussion of wrongdoing at work, including illegal and unethical practices. The empirical material comprises interviews (N = 17) and email exchanges with Finnish social workers, in which they describe their experiences and perceptions of silencing at their workplace. The article describes forms of silencing and uses content analysis to analyse these from the perspective of power. The results characterise silencing as the hidden exercise of power, using institutional mechanisms, communication hierarchies and informal rules to control channels of communication and information flows. By distracting from or delaying redress of malpractice and undermining employees’ right to recognise and report wrongdoing by minimising, wrongdoing is normalised and responsibility to take action is avoided. These silencing mechanisms must be understood if they are to be challenged and properly addressed.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-12
Number of pages12
JournalEuropean Journal of Social Work
Publication statusPublished - 2018
MoEC publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed


  • whistleblowing
  • silencing
  • social work
  • forms of power
  • institutional ethnography

Field of science

  • Social work


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