[Robert Dingwall, "Better Drowned than Duffers…?," social science space, 19 February 2012.]
Dingwall compares a 1930 children's novel, which suggests that young people need some risk in their lives, to the case of
two third-year undergraduates at an urban university who wanted to write dissertations about lap-dancing clubs. I have to confess that the fascination of students with the sex industry often baffles me and results in some assignments that can be quite unpleasant to mark. However, in the UK, lap-dancing bars and clubs goes on are commonly places open to anyone over 18. These young women could walk into these premises, spend the evening observing interactions and write a blog about them. They could not, however, use that material to write a dissertation because their research ethics committee would not approve the project 'in case something happened to them and the university was held responsible'.
Some precautions might be justified, he writes, but
students surely have a right not to have their spirit of adventure stifled by institutional prissiness. If they are banned from taking everyday risks, how will they ever venture beyond what is safe and known? If universities cease to be places where unexpected, and possibly dangerous, things can happen, what is the point of universities? Are we just creating duffers?