Risk Culture and Cultural Risk
When the risk and safety industry defines culture it doesn’t consider critical aspects of culture. The most common definition is that culture is ‘what we do around here’ which fits in nicely with the behaviourist-cognitivist worldview that dominates the sector.
So people in the risk industry role up to training programs thinking they are discussing culture but they are not. They assume that they are being informed about the social psychology or risk, but they are not. So much is missing from the common approaches to risk culture that these approaches themselves have become a cultural risk.
Neither the SIA Body of Knowledge (SIA BoK) nor the Security Risk Body of Knowledge (SRMBoK) nor any of the common approaches to risk culture in either sector discuss critical social-psychological factors in defining culture. Indeed, such critical knowledge about the ‘collective unconscious’, semiotics-semiosis, semiosphere, personhood, the embodied unconscious, transdisciplinarity, transcendence, religion-faith-belief, social politics and ethics are completely missing. This means that the common assumptions of the risk and safety industry about risk culture are inadequate. A behaviourist-cognitvist paradigm of risk culture poses a significant culture risk for those in the risk industry who are led to believe they are tackling risk.
For the purpose of this discussion let’s consider just one example, but there are many examples, of massive gaps in the risk industry’s approach to culture.
The work of Juri Lotman (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yuri_Lotman) is foundational to any discussion of risk culture. Lotman’s work The Unpredictable Workings of Culture should be foundational reading for anyone in the risk industry. You won’t find Lotman mentioned anywhere in the risk and safety sector. Neither will one find anywhere in risk and safety any mention of Lotman’s (1990) Universe of the Mind, A Semiotic Theory of Culture. Why is this critical? In 1991 Lotman received the Gold Medal of Philology, the highest award for philologists and developed the idea of ‘the semiosphere’.
So, here is the risk and safety industry caught up in a behaviourist-cognitvist paradigm, wondering why things happen unconsciously and unpredictably and yet have no concept of the collective unconscious or how semiotics informs unconscious decision making. Astounding! Culture from the behaviourist-cognitivist paradigm simply becomes the causation of inputs and outputs.
It is through Lotman’s work that we consider the idea of ‘cultural memory’ (https://www.researchgate.net/publication/282886466_Semiotic_theory_of_cultural_memory_In_the_company_of_Juri_Lotman/download). Lotman departs from the basic premise that culture and semiotics and not mutually independent. Semiotics is the semiotics of culture. Lotman’s concept of culture emerged out of the 1960s under the new sciences of cybernetics and information sciences. The behaviourist-cognivist paradigm that dominates risk and safety is still wedded to the 1930s. Lotman proposed a preliminary definition of culture as ‘the sum of all nonhereditary information and the means of its organization and information’. In this way culture is primarily conceived as a sign system subject to structural rules. Culture then is a language/text and sum of languages. Ones semantics-language cannot be separated from one’s semiosis (constructed symbolic meaning).
Culture includes all semiotic systems and the sum of all historically existent messages in all languages. For Lotman, text is the basic element of culture and culture itself. Lotman developed the idea of the semiosphere in the 1980s to claim that all space was semiotic space outside of which semiosis cannot exists. He states (1990, p.44):
‘The function of the trope as a mechanism of semantic indeterminancy explains why it appears openly on the surface of culture in systems which hold that truth is complex, polysemic and inexpressible’.
Of course, without considering culture as a semiosphere one easily falls victim to the nonsense semantics of zero and the absolutes of binary opposition. All this isolated idea that zero is just a goal or a target totally ignores the reality that zero is a trope and language that conveys social-psychological reality. The more one speaks the language of zero the more one denies the realities of infallibility and makes such denial a cultural norm. In this way zero becomes a metaphor for brutalism and dehumanizing because its symbolism becomes the semiosphere for risk. None of this happens consciously.
So, if one wants to influence and affect culture, then one needs to be far more holistic in one’s definition of culture otherwise one is going to wonder why the behaviourist-congitivist strategies paraded as leadership don’t work.