Speaking Semiotic Language to Safety
Semiotics is a language all of its own, no different than a language like Mandarin or Music, and needing translation. Semiotics embodies a visual language that transcends the logic and mechanics of other languages because it uses representations like visual metaphors to convey a way of knowing that resists control. All images precede cognition.
Semiotics is a discipline of study and theory of knowing which Safety doesn’t engage, even though it knows nothing about it, it thinks it can use such language without the any expertise in knowing it. It’s no different than going to China and speaking gobbledygook expecting understanding and even if you learn a few words don’t understand the very grammar of the language. The grammar of semiotics is as complex as any other language and within it there are many sub-disciplines all with their own sub-language and way of knowing. You can see a map of the discipline of Semiotics at Figure 1. The Discipline of Semiotics.
Figure 1. The Discipline of Semiotics
The following ‘map’ helps understand where the discipline of semiotics fits within the Social Sciences at Figure 2. Mapping Semiotics to Other Disciplines.
Figure 2. Mapping Semiotics to Other Disciplines.
So, when we think of the Semiosphere (Lotman) we think of every visual and semiotic representation in Natural life, Artificial Life and Supernatural Life. The highest grossing movies of all time are religious semiotic representations of myths/symbols. See Figure 3. Mapping the Semiosphere.
Figure 3. Mapping the Semiosphere.
All of this is unknown to Safety, consumed by engineering, behaviourism and scientism. And without any interest in Transdisciplinary learning it continues to show how unprofessional it is. What is worse, Safety brings its engineering lens to graphics, visuals and semiosis as if this is how semiotics can be understood. It’s like trying to use a slide rule to understand poetry or music. You can’t understand music through a paradigm of science or engineering, music has its own language that connects to the heart and soul. Similarly, understanding images, graphics, semiotics and iconography have their own grammar.
The domain of Semiotics is the unconscious. Symbology, signs, semiosis and iconography are pre-cognitive and way beyond rational cognition. Semiotics operates in the non-rational (aRational) space and cannot be understood rationally. Just look at all that can be known in the social sciences, and all of it is in the domain of non-measureable knowing. Unfortunately, Safety with its psychosis on measurement has no idea what to do with images or signs. Indeed, it is clear that Safety thinks that the use of signs and symbols, images and icons are somehow objective. Nothing is more fearful to Safety than subjectivity so, it wishes it away.
So, just observe what safety does when it uses symbols, images and semiotics:
- It anchors to PPE as its core identity, stating clearly the primacy of objects over persons,
- The global icon of zero tells us that numerics and perfectionism are central to the identity of the industry (not a profession).
- Then we get a common array of symbols that various groups grab and most often the message (McLuhan) (https://safetyrisk.net/the-medium-is-the-message/ ) conveys its opposite, for example:
- A stiletto – we love harming women (https://safetyrisk.net/the-wisdom-of-the-beguines-for-safety/ ),
- Fist on a wall – aggression and harm,
- Hazardman – safety people are heroes (https://safetyrisk.net/hazardman-wont-save-you/ )
- Mums for safety – paternalism (https://safetyrisk.net/dumbs-for-safety/ ),
- Meerkats – aggressive anti-community message (https://safetyrisk.net/meerkat-mythology-in-safety/ ),
- Pickles – safety is a condiment (https://www.worksafe.govt.nz/managing-health-and-safety/managing-risks/pickled/ ),
- Dumb ways to die – suicide is stupid (https://safetyrisk.net/dumb-ways-to-die-doesnt-work/ ),
- Sexy Sophie – sexualising women as objects anchored to safety work (https://safetyrisk.net/safety-isnt-sexy-and-it-shouldnt-be/ ).
And, there is plenty more. Just look at all this rubbish and ask the key question, how professional is safety? The word ‘professional’ is a meaningless adjective if it is not anchored to intelligent practice.
What Safety doesn’t want to know is that all of this gives primacy to the image not text. Most of the time the semiotics of Safety conveys (unconsciously) its opposite. No wonder most messaging in safety fails. No wonder Safety is best at producing more of the same, sometimes under the language of ‘different’ (https://safetyrisk.net/the-safety-and-new-view-debate/ ) when it is no different. Always projecting solutions in systems, engineering and brutalism.
In my book Envisioning Risk, Seeing, Vision and Meaning in Risk (https://www.humandymensions.com/product/envisioning-risk-seeing-vision-and-meaning-in-risk/ ) I present an array of ways in understanding semiotics and visionary messaging that works (https://www.humandymensions.com/product/it-works-a-new-approach-to-risk-and-safety/ ). Part of that discussion explores the power of graffiti and the work of Banksy (pp.162 ff). So often vision is found in non-compliance, political and ethical protest by risk takers who are not afraid to present a view that criticizes orthodoxy. Certainly, graffiti artists know how to speak truth to power so that one image can say a thousand words.
Recently I saw this (Figure 4. Zero Graffiti) commissioned as a message to Zero Harm to say it was a broken useless ideology.
Figure 4. Zero Graffiti
As long as Safety remains it its cocoon, closed to what it doesn’t know, closed to other disciplines, closed to non-measurement, closed the critical thinking, closed to poetics, closed to discourse analysis, closed to social being and closed to risk, it will never become professional.
If you want to understand semiotics, SPOR has been delivering programs in this for 20 years (https://cllr.com.au/product/semiotics-and-the-social-psychology-of-risk-unit-3-overseas-online-elearning/ ). It’s always been available for those who want to learn. How fascinating that Safety seeks blissful ignorance, how professional.
Perhaps you might like to study a bit:
Then again, why not just keep to the discourse of dumb because criticism is toxicity. Yes, let’s keep doing more of the same and keep to mono-disciplinarily ignorance that brands everything it doesn’t know as anti-safety. How professional.