Incivility, Disobedience, and Whistleblowing: Bad Citizenship or Democratic Dissent?

Workshop Convenors

Derek Edyvane (University of Leeds)               Manohar Kumar (Luiss University, Rome)

Enes Kulenovic (University of Zagreb)             Daniele Santoro (Luiss University, Rome)

The notion of ‘good citizenship’ and of related ideas of civic virtue, civility and political obligation have been extensively explored in recent decades by political theorists. By contrast, the contrary notion of ‘bad citizenship’ has received far less attention. With the possible exception of the literature on civil disobedience, political theorists have found little to say about uncitizenly behaviour, incivility and civic vice. This is a somewhat surprising omission given the seemingly more immediate practical relevance of considerations of bad citizenship to the experience of many contemporary liberal democratic societies.

Similarly scant attention has been given to the ethics and legitimacy of whistleblowing in the context of democratic societies. The role of the whistleblower needs a thorough philosophical analysis since it lies between (depending on the stance one takes) understanding the act as that constituting bad or good citizenship. Recent revelations on NSA secrecy programme, as well as Wikileaks cables, testify to the extent secret services have reached, in the US and abroad, in their capacity of collecting citizens’ data, without proper mechanisms of accountability. A question arises whether these revelations should be considered legitimate instances of whistleblowing.

This panel is divided into two parts. The first part deals with the questions surrounding the notion of bad citizenship and seeks to understand it with reference to disobedience, incivility and vice. The second part of the panel deals specifically with the role of whistleblower, its justification (or not), and its distinction with other forms of democratic dissent, viz. civil disobedience and conscientious objection.

Part I: Bad Citizenship: Disobedience, Incivility and Vice

This section is dedicated to examining the question of what constitutes bad citizenship. For example, are recent cases of political whistleblowing unpatriotic and, therefore, to be regarded as instances of bad citizenship? Or do they express a higher form of civic responsibility? Should we always consider secretive acts of resistance, such as those performed by members of the hacking group Anonymous, as examples of bad citizenship? Are acts of violent protest and resistance legitimate only when citizens face autocratic governments, or can such acts ever represent acceptable forms of civic defiance within constitutional democracies?

And what of everyday public ‘rudeness’ – queue-jumping, swearing, loitering, proselytising and the wearing of clothes deemed to be excessively revealing or concealing? What sense can we make of the key concepts here of anti-social behaviour and incivility? Can any sense be made of such ideas in diverse, multicultural societies? And what ought the state to do about such behaviours – should they be prohibited, or do they fall within the domain of freedom of expression and toleration? How do these behaviours bear on longer-standing debates in political philosophy around the importance of social manners and mores, and the ‘ethos’ of justice?

Part II: The Ethics of Whistleblowing

This section will focus on the role of whistleblowing in democratic societies and its relevance for political theory. Moving from the debate on the public impact of recent revelations, we are particularly interested in exploring two aspects of whistleblowing practices.

The first deals with the criteria of moral justification for whistleblowing. We’ll seek to answer the following set of questions: what makes an act of whistleblowing morally permissible? Under which conditions an act of whistleblowing can be judged to be morally demanded? Moreover, since whistleblowing is a communicative act meant to convey information of public interest, which performative conditions should whistleblowing satisfy to be successful?

Civil libertarians argue that whistleblowing constitutes a genuine act of democratic dissent when it reveals injustices or illicit practices that are consequence of secretive governmental practices. This contention requires further analysis, especially against the charge that whistleblowing is a breach of sworn oath of office’s duties, or even a betrayal of patriotic allegiance.

Against these charges, we are interested in answering the following questions: can whistleblowing constitute a genuine act of democratic dissent? If so, is it an act of conscientious objection, a form civil disobedience, or does it constitute a distinct category of dissent?

Relevant to this question are also concerns of publicity and punishment: should a whistleblower reveal her identity? Should the whistleblower be willing to submit to the law?

We invite papers which discuss issues relating to either of these parts. If you are interested in participating in this workshop, please submit an abstract (750 to 1000 words) to  by Friday June 8, 2014.  Please do earmark in the email the part of the panel (Part I or II) the submission should be considered for. We intend to circulate full versions of papers for an enriched discussion, though it is not mandatory for participation in the workshop. Participants intending to submit full papers should do so by August 25, 2014.