Ritual as Embodied Learning in Safety

Ritual as Embodied Learning in Safety

imageI have written about the nature of ritual previously, particularly the properties of ritual:


All rituals (and associated semiotics) ‘embody’ learning.

It is important when understanding learning that we don’t get locked exclusively into cognitive-data-transmission as learning. A focus on brain-centric learning or behaviourist-centric learning, the darlings of Safety, are only a small part of what comprises learning. Indeed, whilst training is not learning it has much more in common with inculcating ritual. Once trained into a ritual, then the learning of the ritual is embodied in performance in a similar way to how learning is embodied in the semiotics of theatre (https://archive.org/details/semioticsoftheat0000elam ). Learning through the semiotics of performance is foundational to understanding the embodiment of learning in ritual.

If one’s theory of learning excludes a discussion of ritual, semiotics and the unconscious, its most probably not about learning but cognitive data transfer (https://safetyrisk.net/what-theory-of-learning-is-embedded-in-your-investigation-methodology/ ). When discussion of learning excludes discourse of becoming (Delueze) it is probably just about data transfer.

When it comes to ritual, most often learning is neither brain-centric or behaviourist. For example, rituals that develop heuristics are unconscious endorsements of belief enactments, often confirmed through sunk cost and confirmation bias. The many heuristics that we enact each day are about not thinking, habituation and embodied learning in performance. This is not to say whether the learning is good or bad, or ethical, just that embodied ritual is just as much learning as is a movement in cognition. When we engage with ritual we know we are exploring how unconscious body memory invokes action (https://www.researchgate.net/publication/226320095_Body_Memory_and_the_Unconscious ). In this worldview we stop applying cognitive-rationalist constructs to decision making and explore how the unconscious dimension of human being ‘works’.

Rituals need not take on religious value unless they are understood as efficacious for salvation. A religious ritual means that if the ritual is not ‘performed’ one won’t be ‘saved’ (https://safetyrisk.net/safety-sacraments-and-rituals/ ). In schooling, we learn many cultural values through ritual that are not religious but certainly political and moral eg. lining up for class. It is through lining up that we learn order, obedience to authority and compliance.

It is through the many gestures and symbols of schooling that we learn much cultural reproduction eg. social values, economic meaning, political power, norms about brain-centrism, behaviourism, rule keeping, excommunication, gangs/groups, boredom, belonging and gestures of resistance. All of these things are not religious but are learned by the embodiment of symbols and gestures in the schooling context. Many rituals of safety embody learning in this way eg. the idea that paperwork as efficacious is learned by the repetition of paperwork rituals (https://safetyrisk.net/risk-and-safety-rituals/ ). When we enact a process like an iCam we normalize it’s methods as efficacious through its rituals (https://safetyrisk.net/deconstructing-icam-useful-or-useless/ ), the more it is performed the more one believes it works, even though it doesn’t. The performance of an iCam gives the outcomes designed by the methodology of iCam, this doesn’t mean that an iCam directs learning.

Many educators know heuristic learning as ‘the hidden curriculum’ (https://www.bu.edu/teaching-writing/resources/teaching-the-hidden-curriculum/). The overt curriculum is mostly consumed with cognitive brain-centric data input and output. In the ‘hidden curriculum’ most things are absorbed by osmosis in the ritual/symbols of performance. Knowledge in this sense is embodied and heuristic/unconscious. If we leave this dimension out of our discussions on learning we omit 95% of all learning.

Unfortunately, when Safety speaks about learning it most often concerns brain-centric cognitive transfer. When an incident investigation like an iCam talks about ‘learning’, does it ever define what it means by learning? When one reviews an event is it just about cognitive awareness of something or is it about movement in ritual, semiotics, habituations (Bourdieu’s ‘habitus’) and performance? Can you see the difference?

When one looks at event causation what is learned by the iCam ritual? What is culturally normalized by its symbols, gestures and rituals? Do we look at the cultural ‘architecture’ and ‘grammar’ of the workplace to understand the nature of events? When we talk about a ‘learning culture’ do we include a discussion of the semiotics of performance or gestured architecture in learning? Is culture defined as behaviours and systems or are transdisciplinary notions of learning included? Or is it just like schooling and the regurgitation of expected data (Delueze), where there is no discourse of ‘becoming’ (https://www.researchgate.net/publication/303972583_Deleuze_and_Learning ), just the normalization of cultural rituals and moral reproduction? Does the approach to learning include embodiment, interaffectivity and intercorporeality (https://core.ac.uk/download/pdf/228601612.pdf )? Is the Human Mind understood as the embodied person or is the notion of ‘mind’ just mean ‘brain’? If our bodies learn outside of conscious awareness how do we include ‘the other’ and ‘social being’ in how we understand learning? Do we understand learning as the transformation of habits? (https://www.academia.edu/31778463/The_Embodied_Mind_Education_as_the_Transformation_of_Habits ). Does our notion of ‘performance’ include the semiotics, gestures, rituals and embodied non-measurable layers of performance? Is performing an ecological enactment or a systemic/organizational behaviour?

When we understand learning to include embodied gestures, symbols, rituals and habits we approach the notion of cultural learning differently to the cognition-focused model common in safety. When we understand ritual as embodied learning we turn our perception away from what are considered safety norms to envision the nature of events from an uncommon perspective. Do we include in our notion of learning those things that can be known outside of common faculties of perception? (Delueze) For example; Can our notion of learning accommodate the realities of faith? Not religious faith but rather human intuitions based on ritual, symbol and embodied interaffectivity? If we are closed to including such thinking in our definition of learning, are we then closed to learning? For if learning is not ‘open’ then it’s just data-transfer of regurgitated values.

Dr Rob Long
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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