For anyone who wants to learn about the nitty-gritty dynamics of workplace mobbing, especially in academic institutions, sociologist Kenneth Westhues’s (U. Waterloo, Canada) invaluable, thought-provoking body of work is worthy of close study. One of Ken’s most important books is among his earliest, The Envy of Excellence (2004), a thorough case study of the mobbing and eventual dismissal of University of Toronto professor Herbert Richardson, a respected theologian and scholar. Clocking in at over 350 pages, with a 130 pp. appendix of responsive essays by other scholars, it is a bizarre, fascinating, and disturbing tale, and Ken uses it to theorize about and comment upon mobbing processes overall.
Among other things, Ken sets out basic clues for when “social elimination” is likely to occur where a targeted worker has given others a supposed reason to push them out. The first and primary clue is “the eliminators’ focus on the targeted person, rather than on the allegedly offensive act,” manifesting in “personally derisive and humiliating statements” about the target. At this juncture, “the eliminative impulse has been unleashed.”
Westhues adds ten additional clues suggesting that the eliminative process is underway:
- “A popular, high-achieving target.”
- “Lack of due process.”
- “Odd timing.”
- “Resistance to external review.”
- “Unanimity.” (on the part of the eliminators)
- “Fuzzy charges.”
- “Prior marginalization.”
- “Impassioned rhetoric.”
I bet that a lot of folks who have experienced or observed severe mobbing or bullying at work would nod their heads in agreement on many of these factors.
Note: Those wishing to obtain a copy of Westhues’s book may be able to find comparatively inexpensive pre-formal publication paperback copies under the title Administrative Mobbing at the University of Toronto.