GY246      Half Unit
Field Methods in Geography

This information is for the 2019/20 session.

Teacher responsible

Dr Ryan Centner STC 6.01c

Dr Mara Nogueira


This course is compulsory on the BA in Geography. This course is not available as an outside option nor to General Course students.

Course content

The course aims to prepare second-year students to undertake field research, focusing specifically on qualitative methods. It is linked to the BA Geography field course that takes place at the end of LT, and offers key preparation for third-year Independent Research Projects (IRP) that BA Geography students must conduct after this course.

Attendance and active participation is crucial for appropriate preparation for the field trip.

The course examines methodologies in field-based geographical research and evaluates their application to different kinds of research problems. It considers the choice of methods which may be used in the student’s own IRP, and how to plan research. It enables students to acquire familiarity with, and practice of, contemporary qualitative research techniques and to examine different ways of, and gain experience in, presenting research results. A further aim of the course is to enable students to evaluate critically the methodological validity of qualitative geographical research as distinct from quantitative approaches.

The course covers the following qualitative approaches to social science methodologies:

(i) techniques for qualitative data analysis including structured and unstructured interviewing, participant observation, and transecting, including ethics when conducting fieldwork;

(ii) application of qualitative research techniques in the field; and

(iii) techniques for designing, carrying out, and presenting field research, including both the course's field report and the thrid-year IRP.

Topics covered:

1. Ethics & planning in independent geography research projects

2. Qualitative methodology in human geography: What can we know? What kind of knowledge can we gain about qualities of the social and spatial world? And how?

3. Interviews: What people think, and are able/willing to tell us

4. Ethnography & observation: What people do, and maybe even how they feel about it

5. Transecting: Making sense of places across space

6. Field-course location: History & context

7. Field-course location: Topics in the field A

8. Field-course location: Topics in the field B

9. Field-course location: Topics in the field C


13 hours and 30 minutes of lectures, 9 hours of classes and 1 hour of workshops in the LT.

Students on this course will have a reading week in Week 6.

One week-long field-course to a non-UK location is associated with this course, normally in the final week of the Lent Term. Students should be aware that, although the costs of this course are subsidised by the Department, they will be expected to make a substantial financial contribution themselves. There are bursaries available from the Department for students who can document financial need.

An alternative field exercise will be undertaken by students who are unable to participate in the above one-week residential field-course.

Attendance in both lecture and class is required in this course due to the demanding nature of the field trip and particularly the mandatory field research project at the end of the term.

There is a mandatory pre-trip meeting for students in Week 7. Students must attend this meeting in order to be allowed to participate in the field trip in Week 11.

Formative coursework

Short exercises conducted in preparation for class sessions throughout the Lent Term.

Indicative reading

  • Becker, H. S. (1998) Tricks of the trade: How to think about your research while you’re doing it. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  • Becker, H. S. (2007) Writing for social scientists: How to start and finish your thesis, book, or article (2nd edition). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  • Cloke, P. et al (2004) Practising human geographies. London: Sage. 
  • Esterberg, K.G. (2002) Qualitative Methods in Social Research. Boston: McGraw-Hill.
  • Flowerdew, R. and Martin, D. (eds.) (2005) Methods in human geography: A guide for students doing a research project (2nd edition). Harlow, England: Pearson/Prentice Hall.
  • Hain, I. (2010) Qualitative research methods in human geography (3rd edition). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Hennink, M. et al (2011) Qualitative research methods. London: Sage.
  • Jones, J., Quinn, S. and Brown, H. (2011) Writing for sociology (2nd edition). Berkeley: Department of Sociology, University of California at Berkeley.
  • Kvale, S. (1996), Interviews: An introduction to qualitative research interviewing. London: Sage.
  • Luker, K. (2008) Salsa dancing into the social sciences: Research in an age of info-glut. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
  • Parsons, T. and Knight, P. (1995): How to do your dissertation in geography and related disciplines. London: Chapman & Hall.


Project (60%, 3500 words) and research proposal (30%) in the ST.
Class participation (10%) in the LT.

Key facts

Department: Geography & Environment

Total students 2018/19: 40

Average class size 2018/19: 13

Capped 2018/19: No

Value: Half Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Personal development skills

  • Self-management
  • Team working
  • Problem solving
  • Application of information skills
  • Communication
  • Application of numeracy skills
  • Specialist skills