Criticism and Silencing in Academia: The Ambivalence of Feedback

Martin Lenz


While criticism of management and other authorities might sometimes count as virtuous, it is often taken as a disturbance of business operations. Some people even think that criticism reflects badly on managers, as it supposedly shows that they do not have sufficient control over their employees. As I see it, then, feedback or criticism is framed in a highly ambivalent way: Although criticism is often invited as an opportunity for improvement, it is mostly received as a cause of reputational damage. A straightforward illustration of this fact is the treatment of so-called whistle blowers who might be viewed either as martyrs exposing problems to be addressed or as traitors revealing failings or misconduct. Yet, given the moral and institutional stakes in improving a problematic situation, it is still surprising that a portrayal of criticism as a disturbance is so often successful. So how is it possible to obscure the obvious downsides of shunning criticism? Zooming in on the ambivalent values associated with criticism, I shall argue that administrative hierarchies and distributions of tasks often provide incentives to suppress criticism and, by extension, collective action rooted in criticism of authorities in academia.

Słowa kluczowe: Criticism, whistle blowing, hierarchy, management, universities

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