See the real world

November 19, 1999

The article "Dangerous liaisons" (THES, November 5) explores some volatile territory in questioning the student field expeditions that often form a popular feature of undergraduate or postgraduate training.

At best, these can be the high point of a student's learning experience, at worst a disaster for all concerned. Of course ethics, safety and research design need careful attention. Of course errors are sometimes made, fortunately, rarely with such potentially frightening consequences. Good vetting and supervision by departments and careful training of staff and expedition members help prevent problems.

As a student, I was blessed with several faculty prepared to run such programmes. Like many others, I try to provide the same type of experience for my own most committed students.

What is the difference between a well-conceived and run project that delivers worthwhile goals and is supported by local people in the destination region and expeditionary jeux sans fronti res? Are personal thrill-seeking and adventure what drive an expedition or are there more altruistic, intellectual or practical goals? Have students involved been adequately prepared for risks? Are local people being exploited or put at risk? These are just some of the questions that need to be asked about any human subject-based field project. Let us keep asking them and not just turn our backs on involvement with the real world because of the problems and dangers that sometimes come with stepping outside our ivory-coloured towerblocks.

Teri Brewer Department of anthropology University of Glamorgan

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