A Semiotic Understanding of Culture

A Semiotic Understanding of Culture

One of the profound weaknesses of the AIHS BoK Chapter on Culture is a complete omission of an Transdisciplinary focus on culture. The approach to understanding culture omits any sense of Transdisciplinarity is about giving authenticity and value to many disciplines and what they contribute to knowing. In the case of understanding culture, a Social Psychology of Risk (SPoR) worldview gives a semiotic way of knowing as much value as a mathematical, scientific or brain-centric ways of knowing. Just because you don’t understand Poetic, Theological or Semiotic knowing doesn’t mean such ways of knowing are invalid. Similarly, the privileging of STEM-only knowing in the safety industry limits all that could be known through a Transdisciplinary lens (https://safetyrisk.net/transdisciplinary-thinking-in-risk-and-safety/ ). I find it curious that some in safety use the language of ‘differently’, yet come at safety from the same STEM-only worldview as traditional safety. You can call it what you like; 1, 2, 3 or blik, the worldview is the same.

If one wants to understand culture the place to start is not with a STEM-only definition but a Transdisciplinary understanding, including giving value to Semiotics. As a start, check out the work of Juri Lotman (1990) Universe of the Mind, A Semiotic Theory of Culture or (2010) The Unpredictable Workings of Culture. Even just reading these two works of Lotman one only scratches the surface in understanding culture. Such an understanding moves away from brain-centrism and behaviourist understandings of culture that dominate the safety industry and characterize the AIHS BoK.

The choice of framing for the AIHS BoK Chapter on Organisational Culture (p.1) says it all. It is clear from the Chapter that a definition of culture is simply put in the too hard basket. Of course culture is a ‘wicked problem’ but walking away from definition just because STEM-only limits envisioning (https://www.humandymensions.com/product/envisioning-risk-seeing-vision-and-meaning-in-risk/ ) doesn’t mean that culture cannot be understood in non-STEM knowing. When the only lens available to envision risk is the STEM lens, then the limits of STEM become the only way one understands culture. In this case culture is put into the ‘too hard’ basket and so it settles on climate (and measurables).

Without defining understanding of culture Safety proceeds fixated on: ‘determinants’ (presumably for measurement), relationship between organizational culture and OHS outcomes, so called ‘OHS professionals’ and a focus on managing change. In not seeking to define culture semiotically, the Chapter allows dominant STEM paradigms associated with cultural Discourse in the safety industry to prevail ie. No change. Instead the Chapter has a focus on ‘climate’ and ‘OHS outcomes’ and endorses the flawed behaviourist idea that culture is ‘what we do around here’. So, no change.

The chapter then moves away from any discussion of culture (climate) to equating culture (climate) to systems. So, by the time you get to page 2 of the AIHS BoK Chapter, any possibility of understanding culture Semiotically, Ecologically or Poetically is gone, even though token acknowledgement is given to culture as a social phenomenon.

By excluding critical Transdisciplinary understandings of culture, the industry has no opportunity to connect with an understanding of culture as the Collective Unconscious or Semiosphere . Similarly, holding to a systemic, behaviourist and brain-centric worldview Safety has no opportunity to envision risk differently, especially with regard to understanding culture and an ethic of risk. Therefore, any change to systems, behaviours and the safety thinking climate will have little effect on the semiotic and ecological foundations of culture. If every problem is perceived as a nail, then the only solution proposed is a hammer.

There are other ways of knowing culture outside of the confines of the STEM-only worldview and it is through Transdisciplinarity that these ways of knowing can be accessed. Until one shifts outside the STEM-only worldview it is not likely that one would understand the culture cloud (https://vimeo.com/118458068 ) or do much more than play with systems hoping that culture will change.

Culture Cloud from Human Dymensions on Vimeo.

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