Culture is NOT a Product nor a Construct

imageWhen culture is viewed through the lens of behaviourism and safety, it is asserted that culture is a ‘construct’ and ‘product’ (p.50). This is the assertion of Cooper in his chapter in Safety Cultures, Safety Models.

When the lens is behaviourist safety, one can assert that risk is best tackled through management systems not by seeking change in values, beliefs and attitudes (p47).

Of course, when culture is a ‘construct’ and ‘product’ it can be controlled by behaviourism. Then everything just becomes a matter of ‘performance’ and ‘observable degree of effort’. A neat combination to explain away the ‘wickedity’ of culture and how to anchor blame to a lack of ‘effort’. (Reminds me of the old religious rationale for why prayer doesn’t work, not enough faith).

This language of condition is typical of how behaviourists weasel out of why BBS doesn’t work, ah it wasn’t enough effort.

Culture is about none of this. Culture transcends any idea that it can be ‘constructed’, or can be controlled as a ‘product’. So, in Cooper’s world of safety the ‘safety culture product’ can be measured by ‘that observable degree of effort’ (p.54). The whole assumption of the chapter is that culture is a ‘thing’ and commodity that can be controlled by behaviourist actions. And apparently this ‘effort’ is measurable.

Similarly, as in Hopkins, this chapter asserts that national cultures can be ‘over-ridden’ by Safety. Here we see the arrogance of Safety again proposing that safety has some colonial right to over-ride national (religious) culture. This is the kind of assertion one gets from the safety ‘cocoon’ that only sources safety (all references in this chapter are all the usual safety sources) with no consideration of any Transdisciplinary evidence to the contrary. Then to be told that safety should not be done ‘at people’ but ‘with’ them (p.56).

These kinds of assertions are representative of ‘safety hegemony’ that believes (culturally) that it has some kind of ‘divine right’ to ‘over-ride’ national (religious) culture. When safety culture is a ‘product’ (not a semiosphere (Lotman) and ecological reality) apparently over-riding something or someone is justified.

Culture transcends any sense that safety is a priority. Culture is about living and being not some anxiety about harm and death. Indeed, most cultural gestures and rituals are a result of people, groups and societies tackling the intractable challenges of harm and death. How bizarre to propose that a mechanical, materialist and behaviourist construct could ‘over-ride’ the many transcendent embodied practices of culture.

Any Transdisciplinary research will show that culture transcends definition of ‘constructs’ and controllable ‘products’. Similarly, the assertion that safety is a ‘value’ (p.54). Safety can be something (an outcome) that can be valued but it is NOT a value. A simple understanding of ethics will demonstrate this. More gobbledygook sourced from the engineering-behaviourist paradigm (p56).

Here is some classic language in the chapter ‘Both are contained within the ‘Management/Supervision’ characteristic in the model shown in Fig. 1., and lend themselves to monitoring the safety culture product, that observable degree of effort …’ (p.57) This is linked to ‘safety partnership’ and sets up a wonderful dynamic for policing.

The chapter proceeds with discussion of ‘supportive’ and ‘’engaging environments as if there is no connection in culture between a behaviourist ontology and what it ‘does to’ people. Then somehow by miracle, out pops ‘mutual respect’, ‘dialogue’ and ‘joint decision-making’. Whilst at the same time making safety success conditional on ‘effort’ and ‘compliance with rules and procedures’ (p.58).

The chapter concludes with this: ‘Companies should develop leading KPIs that focus on what people do, to facilitate monitoring of ‘that observable degree of effort’ (p.59). Can you read between the lines? And what KPIs could possible provide some objective and observable sense of effort? Sounds like the old school teacher: ‘x failed this subject because they didn’t try hard enough’.

And what guiding ‘ethic’ might be the foundation of these KPIs? What moral philosophy will guide this surveillance of ‘degree of effort’? What political theory will drive this ‘monitoring’? What skills in observation (psychology of goals, perception and motivation) will guide this approach? How interesting, because neither behaviourism, engineering or safety have any interest in any skill development in an ethic of observation.

This is the kind of simplistic stuff that helps BBS sells their product (p.52) and none of it has much to do with culture. I certainly have no interest in some tyrant imposing some arbitrary KPI on my subjective ‘degree of effort’ in safety.

Oh yes, your marriage failed because you didn’t try hard enough. You kids rebelled because you didn’t parent hard enough. Your business failed because you didn’t try hard enough. You had an incident and were harmed because you didn’t try hard enough. Here, I constructed the KPI that deemed you are a loser.

This is what the trajectory of BBS offers persons. No hope, no connection, no engagement, no humanising of risk and more gobbledygook based on a definition of culture as a ‘constructed product’.

However, if you want to know what culture is really about and what you can do about it in a positive, constructive and practical way, then you can study here:

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