STEM Safety in Drag


imageAll humans select metaphors and metonymies to form coherent systems in terms of which they conceptualize experience. In safety the predominant grammar is mechanistic anchored to Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM). Even if one claims in safety some source in social science contrasted to STEM the language chosen still seeks meaning in mechanistic metaphors and language.

Indeed, many approaches in safety that claim to be social or psychological are often mechanistic STEM models ‘in drag’. This is why the so called interest in safety psychology has a focus on cognitivist and behaviourist elements of psychology. In reality, the fundamental paradigm, worldview and discourse (power-source) has not shifted. One can claim all the difference in the world but if the paradigm remains in STEM (positivism) then there will be no difference. One can only find difference from the STEM paradigm outside of the STEM worldview, namely in a poetic/humanities approach to skills and knowledge ( ).

What we find in the STEM paradigm is the fixation on humans as objects, measurement and ‘factors’ as subsets of systems. This is why the language used in safety discourse is a key indicator to the underlying paradigm (worldview) of what is presented. It doesn’t matter whether the subject is psychological safety or sociological safety, analyze the language and look for mechanistic metaphors and concepts as a sure give away that STEM is ‘in drag’.

The language of STEM loves to speak of: utility, computation, cognition, behaviours, measures, controls, diagnosis, goals, systems, complexity, competence, process, factors, power, work, brain, science, numeric, metrics and management. This is why safety is in love with zero ( ). Language often missing is about: consciousness, personhood, feeling, emotions, unconsciousness, learning, mystery, suffering, mind, embodiment and poetics.

When STEM is the safety discourse the only language it knows to use is mechanistic paradigms about humanness ( This is why it is so amusing to hear scientists, engineers and safety people use theological language mixed in their discourse ( One moment the language is about metrics and next it starts talking about heresy, zero, mystery, belief, faith, cardinal rules etc.

Even in common works in psychosocial safety humans are spoken about as ‘factors’ or ‘objects’ in systems. They are not positioned ecologically but are designated as a capacity ready for measurement. The discourse is often profoundly individualistic and even in discussions on mental health ‘problems’ are projected on to the person not understood ecologically beyond the nature of a system. Whilst the title of a presentation might be about psychology and safety the underlying fear and anxiety is about uncertainty and a loss of control. The last language it will ever use is that anything is a wicked problem ( ).

A good place to start in understanding the confines of worldviews and paradigms in language is Lakoff and Johnson ‘Metaphors We Live By’ ( Punter’s book ‘Metaphor’ is also an excellent place to start in understanding how language shapes and manufactures culture.

One of the things we know about actors ‘in drag’ is that what we see is not real but rather an aberration of a kind of femininity that is also unreal. Yet people are so entertained by it, The Adventures of Priscilla Queen of the Desert comes to mind. So, next time you see something spruiked as non-STEM, look at the language, particularly metaphors and see what you find.

Dr Rob Long

Dr Rob Long

Expert in Social Psychology, Principal & Trainer at Human Dymensions
Dr Rob Long

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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.

4 Replies to “STEM Safety in Drag”

  1. “If there really is such a thing as turning in one’s grave, Shakespeare must get a lot of exercise.” – George Orwell

  2. The one phrase that clouds my vision is “people are our most important asset”! how does that inspire anyone? Oh well I guess Im just another chattel that sold his soul to the company store!

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