Insubordination is the act of a subordinate deliberately disobeying a lawful order. Refusing to perform an action that is not ethical or legal is not insubordination. Refusing to perform an action that is not within the scope of authority of the person issuing the order is not insubordination.

Insubordination is typically a punishable offense in hierarchical organizations which depend on people lower in the chain of command to do as they are told.


The concept of insubordination is most often associated with military organizations, as military organizations have a chain of command and lawful orders given by a commissioned officer (CO) or noncommissioned officer (NCO) are expected to be carried out by the person to whom the order is given. Refusal of a military officer to obey his (civilian) superiors would also count, though in some nations the head of the government is (at least technically) also the most superior officer of the military (see for example Commander in Chief).


Other types of hierarchical structures, especially corporations, may also use insubordination as a reason for dismissal or censure of an employee.

There have been a number of court cases in the United States which have involved charges of insubordination from the employer with counter charges of infringement of First Amendment rights from the employee. A number of these cases have reached the U.S. Supreme Court usually involving a conflict between an institution of higher education and a faculty member.

In the modern workplace in the Western world, hierarchical power relationships are usually sufficiently internalized so that the issue of formal charges of insubordination are rare. In his book, Disciplined Minds, American physicist and writer Jeff Schmidt points out that professionals are trusted to run organisations in the interests of their employers. Because employers cannot be on hand to manage every decision, professionals are trained to “ensure that each and every detail of their work favours the right interests – or skewers the disfavoured ones” in the absence of overt control.


There have been a number of famous and infamous people who have committed insubordination or publicly objected to an organizational practice.
* Douglas MacArthur - US General who was relieved of command by President Harry S. Truman during the Korean Conflict.
* Jackie Robinson - US baseball player was accused of insubordination while in the military but was exonerated at a court martial.
* Howard Zinn - historian who was fired for insubordination
* Albert Pike - charged by the Confederate Army with insubordination
* Nicholas Jonathan Calvert - DAL employee who dared to resign
* George Grosz - soldier in German Army, World War I, and an artist
* Eugene Debs - labor organizer and member of Socialist Party
* Jeffrey Wigand - VP of Brown & Williamson who revealed tobacco industry practices
* Billy Mitchell - famous aviator, United States Army Air Corp commander during World War I and proponent of air power during the interwar years
* Hunter S. Thompson - famous writer fired from Time Magazine
* Thomas Scott (Orangeman) executed by Louis Riel because of this crime

ee also

* Mutiny
* Whistle blower
* Criticism
*Court cases involving insubordination:
** Rendell-Baker v. Kohn, 457 U.S. 830 (1982 US Supreme Court)
** Schenck v. United States, 249 U.S. 47 (1919 US Supreme Court)
** Perry v. Sindermann, 408 U.S. 593

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • insubordination — [ ɛ̃sybɔrdinasjɔ̃ ] n. f. • 1770; de 1. in et subordination ♦ Refus de se soumettre. ⇒ désobéissance, indiscipline, insoumission; licence. Esprit d insubordination. ⇒ rébellion. Milit. Refus d obéissance aux ordres d un supérieur. Acte, délit,… …   Encyclopédie Universelle

  • Insubordination — (aus dem Lateinischen) ist der Ungehorsam gegenüber Vorgesetzten, heute insbesondere in der militärischen Befehlsgewalt angewendet (siehe: Befehlsverweigerung und Gehorsamsverweigerung). Zur Insubordination zählen Achtungsverletzung im Dienst… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • insubordination — in‧su‧bor‧di‧na‧tion [ˌɪnsəbɔːdˈneɪʆn ǁ ɔːr ] noun [uncountable] when you refuse to obey someone of a higher rank: • He was fired for insubordination. insubordinate adjective : • an insubordinate new recruit * * * insubordination UK US… …   Financial and business terms

  • Insubordination — In sub*or di*na tion, n. [Cf. F. insubordination.] The quality of being insubordinate; disobedience to lawful authority. [1913 Webster] …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • insubordination — (n.) 1790, from IN (Cf. in ) (1) not, opposite of + SUBORDINATION (Cf. subordination). Perhaps on model of Fr. insubordination (1788) …   Etymology dictionary

  • Insubordination — (v. lat.), 1) Auflehnen gegen Ordnung u. Gesetz, s.u. Amtsverbrechen III. G); bes. 2) Ungehorsam der Militärpersonen gegen ihre Vorgesetzten …   Pierer's Universal-Lexikon

  • Insubordination — (lat.), Ungehorsam gegen den Vorgesetzten, namentlich Verletzung der Pflichten der militärischen Unterordnung. Während bei Zivilbeamten die Hintansetzung des dem Vorgesetzten schuldigen Gehorsams meist als Disziplinarsache und nur ausnahmsweise… …   Meyers Großes Konversations-Lexikon

  • Insubordination — (neulat.), Ungehorsam, Auflehnung gegen Ordnung und Gesetz; insbes. Ungehorsam der Militärpersonen gegen ihre Vorgesetzen …   Kleines Konversations-Lexikon

  • Insubordination — Insubordination, Ungehorsam gegen die Obern, besonders beim Militär; vergl. Subordination …   Herders Conversations-Lexikon

  • insubordination — index anarchy, contempt (disobedience to the court), defiance, disloyalty, disrespect, insurrection, mutiny, rebellion …   Law dictionary

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