Politics and Power in Safety

If one is interested in understanding politics and power the place to start is with Foucault (https://aeon.co/essays/why-foucaults-work-on-power-is-more-important-than-ever ). You can find some of his works here:




One of the driving dynamics in the study of Social Psychology of Risk (SPoR) is understanding power and politics. Social Psychology emerges out of social political schools of thought. SPoR studies the nature of power and its place in the tackling risk in the module The Social Politics of Risk (https://cllr.com.au/product/the-social-politics-of-risk-unit-14/).

If one wishes to understand the nature of power and politics I would suggest reading Gramsci, Freire or Giroux. An easy start might be with Pedagogy of the Oppressed (https://envs.ucsc.edu/internships/internship-readings/freire-pedagogy-of-the-oppressed.pdf )

Some of the dynamics that work against an understanding of power and politics are bundled up neatly in the AIHS BoK on Ethics. The call for duty, compliance, zero (the silent master – http://visionzero.global/node/6 ) in a deontological ethic is a perfect mask for the privileging of power. We don’t believe in our global mantra, that’s why we don’t talk about it.

A study of politics, ideology and power is the starting point for any consideration of the nature of ethics in safety. Naturally, none of this is studied in the AIHS BoK on Ethics. The best way to hide one’s politics, ideology and power is to be silent on it. A very effective political ideology hides its real dynamics in moralisms and duty.

Nothing is quite as terrible as someone giving you the sack under the rubric of care. How easy to find an absolute and create a tyranny in the name of good. How easy to hide in a psychology of care as you get the sack. How easy to dehumanize people as objects under the politics of safety. The only time Safety comes a cropper over its power is when it is met with an even greater power in a courtroom.

The beginning to understanding power is questioning. You will always understand the nature of power when you question its locus. You will always feel the power of an ideology if you suggest taking it away. Where is the power? How is it wielded? Who suffers under it? These are beginning questions for finding out how power works in safety. You can see other helpful questions on the Critical Political Questions Tool at Figure One. These are some very simple questions one needs to ask to find out where the power is in safety and how it is being used politically against whom.

Figure One. Critical Political Questions Tool


Often the privileging of a certain form of knowledge (often professionalized) is the pathway to power. All processes of professionalization and accreditation create the hoarding of power for a certain group. Ask a medical doctor, teacher or lawyer a question and you will soon find out where the power in the profession is. The power of knowledge is hoarded in language unique to the group. This may not be intentional but is what outcome is generated. Professsionalised power is easily politicized, territorialized and commodified as a product so that others can be easily oppressed by the use of that power.

Compliance power is often exorcised by isolation, ex-communication and the creation of cultural taboos that suppress criticism and non-conformity. We see this is the professionalized power of the clergy. Even better when oppression, domination and exploitation can be enacted under the cloak of an ideology of good.

The nature of hegemony, culture and ideology is also foundational to a study of politics and power. If these three critical concepts are not central, you are not thinking of power, politics or ethics. Hegemony defines the way that a group enacts their power within a culture and society (https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/social-sciences/hegemony). Hegemonic power works insidiously in a culture delivered by ‘good people’ committed to a closed ideology. The cause of the hegemonic group often becomes ‘deified’ and absolute so that any resistance or non-compliance is deemed evil, anti-good and non-compliant.

The demon to power politics is resistance, questioning and subversion. The power of institutionalization is created to resist such threats to orthodoxy. The love of orthodoxy is stasis (https://safetyrisk.net/the-stress-of-stasis/) and there is not greater power to stasis than zero.

Dr Rob Long

Dr Rob Long

Expert in Social Psychology, Principal & Trainer at Human Dymensions
Dr Rob Long
PhD., MEd., MOH., BEd., BTh., Dip T., Dip Min., Cert IV TAA, MRMIA Rob is the founder of Human Dymensions and has extensive experience, qualifications and expertise across a range of sectors including government, education, corporate, industry and community sectors over 30 years. Rob has worked at all levels of the education and training sector including serving on various post graduate executive, post graduate supervision, post graduate course design and implementation programs.

5 Replies to “Politics and Power in Safety”

  1. Whenever politics and power raises its head Australia’s peak safety body hardly “advocates with courage”. This is quite evident via its white-livered forthcoming online national virtual conference, which is entitled Power and Politics yet not one presentation addresses the subject matter.


    1. Amazing how Safety loves Just Culture but doesn’t even tickle the edges of what it means. Without an ethic or politic of safety and embracing the notion of ideology and power, all remains silent and duty is the call. The naivety is breathtaking.

    1. The best way to do politics and power is to present the label and then do nothing about it. Yes, duty and compliance, perfecto.

  2. Our peak safety body provides a collective voice for its profession but failed to offer any submissions to the Queensland parliamentary inquiry covering black lung and has remained rather silent on the Grosvenor mine explosion, which occurred almost two weeks ago.

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