World view needs ethics

January 5, 2001

Academic geography is set to give ethics an integral role amid increasing concern about the relationship of human beings with the natural world.

This was the prediction of Peter Haggett, emeritus professor of geography at Bristol University, in a guest lecture to the Royal Geographical Society-Institute of British Geographers' annual conference at Plymouth University.

"The questions of how man relates to the natural world and the cosmic order have been asked by philosophers and theologians down the centuries," Professor Haggett said. Ethical issues, he stressed, must be integrated into geographical thinking, since these were key to most changes in world geography.

Professor Haggett, who for 30 years has researched infectious diseases, particularly children's diseases, said he was "deeply conscious of how unfair a world we live in". Half the world's population lives without adequate sanitation, and malnutrition and poverty increase the rate of infectious disease and death.

Professor Haggett urged geographers to move outside "narrow disciplinary debates", warning that they had a responsibility to the wider world, which needed them and sustained them.

He recently chaired an international research team looking at geography in Sweden, where 17 volumes of a national atlas have just been completed. All Sweden's geography departments took part in the research, he said, often in partnership with government ministries. Team research should be encouraged, since some problems were too large and complex to be analysed by an individual.

Professor Haggett also expected a new "regional geography" to evolve, building on traditional skills with expertise from economic geography, regional economics and regional science.

  • If the Scottish National Party is to gain political ground in the key battleground of the west of Scotland, it must adopt a more British outlook, a Cambridge University postgraduate will tell the conference today.

Tristan Clayton is completing a PhD on how people's sense of identity translates into votes, and he has found that in the key Glasgow belt, feelings of a Scottish national identity often come alongside feelings of Britishness.

To win seats in Scotland's devolved parliament, parties must cope with the tensions between Britishness and Scottishness, Mr Clayton said. But it had proved easier for the three "British" parties to adapt to people's rising sense of Scottishness than for the SNP to adapt to the sense of Britishness, "which seems to be ingrained".

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