It’s interesting to work with teams that are falling apart and factionalising in organisations because it always comes down to undisclosed ideological assumptions. Many people in organisations don’t think they have a worldview (paradigm) and can rarely can articulate their ideology (ethic). Indeed, many think their view is neutral and can’t understand why others don’t rally around their cause or view. What I and some of my team do, is simply bring to the surface and articulate the hidden ideology and leave it up to the will of the team to seek the next steps.
Recently in Australia the plight of a footballer has illustrated how extremism and binary oppositionalism limit collaboration and cooperation. Israel Folau is a popular player for the Wallabies (Rugby) and also a fundamentalist Christian. He put a post up on social media that condemned a selection of ‘sinners’ to hell (https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-06-25/israel-folau-crowdfunding-free-speech-simon-longstaff-analysis/11245082 ). His story highlights how symbols/myths create ‘boundary objects’ (http://scalar.usc.edu/works/boundary-objects-guide/index) between people.
The story of Folau and how he was sacked from the Wallabies has now morphed into much more than where it started and now has become a symbol/myth for religious freedom and free speech (https://www.eurekastreet.com.au/article/wrestling-with-the-sacking-of-israel-folau ). Unfortunately, the issue is so politicized that it has emerged as an indicator of neither. Once something is politicized the chance of collaboration, cooperation or cohesion disappears. Political alliances then become the test of ideological agreement. Each side anchors to its political corner and the issue disappears as the real issue emerges – power!
One of the challenges the risk and safety industry faces as it seeks to mature and become professional is the need to articulate an ethic. At the moment it seems that if you come from a mechanistic/engineering worldview there is no issue. All the acolytes of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) line up and shout ‘praise the lord’. Yes, let’s have agreement as long as you move towards me, praise zero and pass out the algorithms.
Unfortunately, the global mantra for safety is zero (http://visionzero.global/node/6) and, there can be no more extreme view than such an absolute. Zero is a boundary object (symbol/myth) that serves to separate not unite the risk and safety community. If you come from the STEM worldview those who don’t rally around zero must be demonized. After all, zero is the only acceptable number right? Yes, only if you accept a STEM worldview but, there are other valid worldviews (https://safetyrisk.net/can-there-be-other-valid-worldviews-than-safety/). Perhaps those worldviews might offer some profound learning for the STEM community. There’s only one way to find out.
Unfortunately, as in the Israel Folau case once the issue became that of political allegiance and a benchmark boundary object, all chance of movement (learning) ceased. When an extreme position is taken on anything there can never be cohesion or collaboration. When something is made binary, then one can only see ‘the other’ as the extremist. Let’s cooperate as long as you move towards me. Of course, this all depends on whether one values collaboration anyway! Ha, ‘zero is the only acceptable number’, assumes that numbers, metrics and numerics matter. Given recent debates in the industry, I see no will to shift on any of these. This is the power of anchoring to myth and symbol.
When something becomes politicized it is then buried in myths and symbols. This hides differences and the politics of difference. In the case of Folau this has become buried in one’s hermeneutic (theory of interpretation) of the Bible. Now it has become anchored to how much money one can raise (https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-06-25/israel-folau-gofundme-appeal-could-spark-changes-to-crowdfunding/11242558) for one’s cause under the naïve belief that numbers demonstrates something. Sound familiar? Interestingly, this whole case will now be decided in the courts and the courts think differently and arbitrate in a completely different worldview than either of the binary camps.
The only way to develop collaboration across disciplines (STEM to others) is to be prepared to shift boundary objects and depoliticize myths and symbols. This takes enormous will, ability to question and insight to embrace a trans-disciplinary view of the world (https://safetyrisk.net/transdisciplinary-safety/ ). Such a move is premised on how much one values learning and indeed, if one thinks ‘the other’ can help that process. However, without movement there can be no learning, just more building fortresses and strengthening of boundary objects. What often results through binary opposition is the creation of new and rival associations and then history takes its course.
Somerville and Rapport (2000) demonstrate this dynamic in Transdisciplianarity: reCreating Integrated Knowledge and offer a way forward to learning through the practical shifting of boundary objects.