Originally posted on January 13, 2020 @ 7:36 AM
One of the challenges of a closed knowledge culture is that such will not help us meet the needs of the future. Whether one understands intractable complexity as a ‘wicked problem’ or just complexity there is no doubt that the days of silos and closed disciplines are over. What we observe in the movement for transdisciplinarity (https://safetyrisk.net/transdisciplinarity-and-worldviews-in-risk/ ) is an openness to bridge across knowledge cultures and the boundaries of professionalization in order to find mature outcomes.
There is little doubt that we live in a time of knowledge explosion, media ‘noise’, denial of disciplinary expertise and uncertainty. Some use the label VUCA (Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity) to capture such an understanding (https://hbr.org/2014/01/what-vuca-really-means-for-you).
In order to transverse across disciplines one needs to find something that all disciplines share in common, a language that they all use (even incompetently) and understand. This is of course the language of Metaphor and Semiotics. Whilst these are not studied in any STEM or safety curriculum as such, they are used extensively in communication. It is at this level where language can extend across the disciplines. This is the foundation of my colleague Craig Ashhurst’s recent PhD thesis (ANU). You can read some of Craig’s work here: Brown et.al, (2019) Independent Thinking in an Uncertain World, A Mind of One’s Own. Earthscan, London. (https://www.booktopia.com.au/independent-thinking-in-an-uncertain-world-valerie-a-brown/book/9781138387225.html )
Metaphor is critical for bridge building across the disciplines and as a starting point I recommend reading Lakoff and Johnson (https://www.cc.gatech.edu/classes/AY2013/cs7601_spring/papers/Lakoff_Johnson.pdf). Similarly, images, signs, symbols and cartographics can be studied in semiotics and here I would recommend Sebeok (https://monoskop.org/images/0/07/Sebeok_Thomas_Signs_An_Introduction_to_Semiocs_2nd_ed_2001.pdf).
If ever there was a need to understand the language of metaphor and semiotics the time is now. Until this happens we are going to end up in safety with appalling metaphors like ‘engineering’ applied to the ecology of resilience and a host of metaphors that evidence a closed knowledge culture. Similarly, we see metaphors of the military and warfare being applied to risk and safety.
When one is immersed in a Masculinist Ethic no wonder such metaphors are made the raison d’être for Ethics and Professional Practice (https://safetyrisk.net/ethics-morality-and-an-ethic-of-risk/ ). Have a look at the recent BoK publication by the AIHS Ethics and Professional Practice and look for some key words: ‘Helping’? Not there, ‘Care’ as a value? Not there. ‘Wisdom’? Not There. ‘Personhood’? Not There. ‘Learning’ as a value? Not There. ‘Fallibility’ Not there. ‘Vulnerability’? Not There. ‘Paradox’? Not there. ‘Ambiguity’? Not There. ‘Love’? Not there. Indeed, many metaphors one would expect to be discussed in a publication on Ethics are simply not there. Perhaps have a look for some other words: ‘Power’ 12 mentions. ‘Control’? 20 mentions. ‘Compliance’? 10 mentions, ‘Duty’ 21 mentions and so on. You get the idea. The BoK publication is classic Masculinist Utilitarian ethics, just not declared so.
Of course the worst metaphor and semiotic for the industry to anchor to is zero (http://visionzero.global/node/6) but this is what a Masculinist Ethic demands (https://safetyrisk.net/what-is-your-safety-ethos/). There is nothing about the metaphor and ideology of Zero that assists the industry in either humanizing or tackling risk. The language, semiotics and metaphor of zero only serves to cement in place the vice of Brutalism. Under the guise of zero ‘do the right thing’ (https://safetyrisk.net/doing-the-right-thing/) becomes nothing more than policing and regulatory capture. The elephant in the room in the BoK on Ethics is zero! And there is simply no discussion of this toxic ideology anywhere to be seen. The publication is nothing more than a dance about critical issues without embracing some of the biggest Transdisciplinary challenges facing the industry.
If you wish to study Transdisciplinarity in Risk there is a workshop available in Canberra on 3,4 February 2020: https://spor.com.au/home/one-week-intensive-2-modules-february-2020/