GY248      Half Unit
Field Methods in Geography & Environment

This information is for the 2019/20 session.

Teacher responsible

Dr Ryan Centner STC 6.01c, Prof Claire Mercer, Dr Thomas Smith 4.21c (field trip co-ordinator) and Dr Julia Corwin


This course is available on the BSc in Economic History and Geography, BSc in Environment and Development and BSc in Environmental Policy with Economics. 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 individual research projects. It examines the methodologies used in field-based geographical and environmental research and evaluates their application to different kinds of research problems. It considers the choice of methodology which may be used in the student’s own Independent Research Project (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 geographical literature.

The course covers the following approaches to social science methodologies:

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

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

(iii) techniques for designing, carrying out, and presenting an Independent Research Project.

Topics covered:

1. Planning an independent research project

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 (plus questionnaires and focus groups): 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 & comparing: Making sense of places

6. How to design a research project

7. Kerala: Background, context and themes

8. Kerala: Communities, agriculture, and the right to nature

9. Kerala: Environmental issues and protected areas


The Kerala field course offers an excellent opportunity to experience a fascinating environment at first hand. The field trip visits the states of Kerala and Tamil Nadu in south India, and will transect a section of the Western Ghats from Munnar to Thekaddy, before heading to the Kerala Backwaters and Fort Cochin. Kerala provides a rich and fascinating introduction to South Asian landscapes and culture, both new and old. The Western Ghats Mountains separate Kerala from Tamil Nadu and are important for agro-forestry products such as tea, cardamom, and other spices. South of Kochi is the complex agro-ecological system of the ‘backwaters’ – a chain of lagoons, lakes and canals along the length of Kerala. Students will embark on a series of orientation and research activities during the trip.


9 hours of lectures and 9 hours of classes in the LT.

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

Field-course: One week-long field-course to the Western Ghats and Backwaters of Kerala, India 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.

Formative coursework

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

Indicative reading

Alasuutari, P. et al. (2008) The SAGE Handbook of Social Research Methods. London: Sage

Barnes, J. A., (1979), Who Should Know What? Social Science, Privacy and Ethics, Harmondsworth: Penguin. [HN29 B26 Course Collection]

Barzun, Jacques and Henry F. Graff (1985): The Modern Researcher, San Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Part III.

Bauer M W & G Gaskell (2000) Qualitative researching with text, image and sound – a practical handbook, London, Sage

Bell, J. (1993): Doing your research Project – a Guide for First-Time Researchers in Education and Social Science, Milton Keynes: Open University Press, chapter 12.

Bryman, A. (2004) Social Research Methods. 2nd edition. Oxford: Oxford University Press

Coffey, A. and P. Atkinson (1996): Making Sense of Qualitative Data, chapter 2, London: Sage Publications.

Crotty, M.J. (2003) Foundations of Social Research: Meaning and Perspective in the Research Process. London, Sage

Dunleavy, Patrick (1986): Studying for a Degree in the Humanities and Social Sciences, Basingstoke: Macmillan, chapter 5.

Esterberg, K.G. (2002) Qualitative Methods in Social Research. Boston: McGraw-Hill

Eyles, J. (ed.), (1988), Research in Human Geography: Introductions and Investigations. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.

Flick U (2006) An introduction to qualitative research, London, Sage (3rd edition)

Flowerdew, R. and Martin, D. (eds.) (2005) Methods in Human Geography: A guide for students doing a research project. 2nd edition. Harlow, England; New York: Pearson/Prentice Hall

Gilbert, N. (1992), Researching social life. London: Sage Publications.

Flick, U. (2006) An Introduction to Qualitative Research. 3rd edition. London: Sage

Flick, U., E. von Kardorff and I. Steinke (eds.) (2004) A Companion to Qualitative Research. London: Sage

Flowerdew, R. and D. Martin (2005) Methods in Human Geography: A guide for students doing a research project. 2nd edition. Essex: Pearson

Hay, I. (2010) Qualitative research methods in human geography. (3rd edition). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Hennink, M. et al (2011) Qualitative Research Methods. London; Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE

Kvale, S. (1996), Interviews: An introduction to qualitative research interviewing. London: Sage. Lindsay, J. (1997): Techniques in Human Geography, London: Routledge.

Mason J (2002) Qualitative research, London, Sage (2nd edition)

Parsons, Tony and Peter G. Knight (1995): How to Do Your Dissertation in Geography and Related Disciplines, London: Chapman & Hall.

Rogers, A., Vites, H., Goudie, A. (1992), The student's companion to Geography. Blackwell.

Turabian, Kate L. (1996): A Manual for Writers of Term Papers, Theses, and Dissertations, Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Watson, George (1987): Writing a Thesis – a Guide to Long Essays and Dissertations, London: Longman.


Research proposal (20%) and research project (60%) in the ST.
Class participation (20%) in the LT.

Key facts

Department: Geography & Environment

Total students 2018/19: Unavailable

Average class size 2018/19: Unavailable

Capped 2018/19: No

Value: Half Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Personal development skills

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