The Social Politics of Safety

The Social Politics of Safety

All organizing is social and political and seeks to create order (equivocality) through language, symbols and discourse. How we organize through systems economically and historically creates the politics of governance. One cannot talk about governance without understanding that association, order, systems and language are ethico-political. All social organizing is ethico-political (Bourdieu Language and Symbolic Power ) and define perceptions of justice.

When one espouses an ideology (zero) one tends to hide the assumptions of that ideology through the political economy embedded in created systems. These systems serve as a mechanism for political and economic unification according to the dominant hegemony (social political group). When one threatens a dominant ideology or powerful group one soon discovers what is significant in a culture.

I was undertaking a semiotic walk with a leadership group from a large construction company last week looking at the iconography across the landscape of Sydney in a study in the embodiment of culture. One of the most dominant icons across the city is the NSW coat of arms, the largest example on the Post Office in Martin Place. Such beautiful sandstone work complete with Greek gods, cherubs, unicorn, lion and the dominant statue of Queen Victoria adorn the building.

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This magnificent sandstone building and its many symbols and icons line the plaza along with other important symbols about war and sacrifice. Such icons and symbols carry enormous historical, political and economic significance for the country and tell a narrative of empire, mythology and power. Little were we to know that following our discussion of culture, symbols and power on our walk that the very next day someone would demonstrate the significance of these through vandalizing the cenotaph in Martin Place (https://www.9news.com.au/2018/08/10/05/32/sydney-cenotaph-vandalised).

You can tell a great deal about the politics of a culture by the symbols and language it defends. These symbols historically embody a social politic that embodies its philosophy of organising and what that culture assumes about power, humans (anthropology) and trajectories/futures. These symbols hold the consensually validated ‘grammar’ of that culture.

We see in the models and symbols of Safety the espousing of an ethic and politic in religious grammar. The Bradley Curve (https://safetyrisk.net/natural-born-learners/ ) espouses that humans have a ‘natural instinct’ to harm and that speaking against zero is ‘heresy’ (http://safetyma.myob.net/news/is-the-bradley-curve-a-confutation-of-risk/222488 ). The World Congress on Safety 2017 made it clear that zero is all about ‘belief’ and ‘faith’. Bradley uses profoundly religious language to embody its soteriology (theory of saving lives). We see this soteriology everywhere in safety in its methodology of salvation, suffering, pain, harm and projections of infallibility (zero). Indeed, the language of ‘sin’ and ‘cardinal’ rules is commonly associated in safety with non-compliance eg.

· https://www.crowcon.com/7sins-complacency.html

· https://www.ehstoday.com/safety-leadership/7-deadly-sins-safety-culture

· https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9M9p2rzxwYw

· https://www.slideshare.net/RogerHartMScCMIOSHCS/dusts-talk-at-wwt-03-2014-45641956

· https://www.slideshare.net/KaylaHouseholder/7-safety-sins-poster

· https://www.ehstoday.com/safety/are-cardinal-rules-birds

· https://slideplayer.com/slide/4885556/

· https://www.ishn.com/blogs/16-thought-leadership/post/98329-cardinal-rules-influencing-noncompliance

I give many more examples of religious language and symbology in safety in my latest book which is available for free download (https://www.humandymensions.com/product/fallibility-risk-living-uncertainty/).

In setting up this religious culture Safety then has a language and symbolism set up for purity, blame and taboo (https://monoskop.org/images/1/1d/Douglas_Mary_Risk_and_Blame_Essays_in_Cultural_Theory_1994.pdf). This is why speaking against zero is deemed a ‘heresy’ by Bradley. The usual outcome for heresy is of course excommunication. The purpose of the religious absolute is to close out debate, discussion and learning.

On our semiotic walk last week it was interesting to also venture into a church and find out that the culture there was dominated by economics and less by belief and faith. There was much more interest in making sure a fee was paid than a discussion of core religious values. As Bourdieu (1991, p. 77) helps us understand:

‘Since linguistic signs are also goods to be given a price by powers capable of providing credit (varying according to the laws of the market on which they are placed), linguistic production is inevitably affected by the anticipation of market sanctions: all verbal expressions – whether words exchanged between friends, the bureaucratic discourse of an authorized spokesperson or academic discourse of a scientific paper – are marked by their conditions of reception and owe some of their properties (even at a grammatical level) to the fact that, on the basis of a practical anticipation of the laws of the market concerned, their authors, mostly unwittingly, and without expressly seeking to do so, try to maximize the symbolic profit they can obtain from the practices which are, inseparably, oriented towards communication and exposed to evaluation. This means that the market fixes the price for a linguistic product, the nature, and therefore the objective value, of which the practical anticipation of this price helped to determine; and it means that the practical relation to the market (ease, timidity, tension, embarrassment, silence etc.), which helps to establish the market sanction, thus provides an apparent justification for the sanction by which it is partly produced.’

The use of language and symbols in Safety endorse a market of value for political and ethic enactment. Religious discourse and symbols therefore help create a social politics for dehumanisation and alienation in relation to risk.

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.

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