GY246      Half Unit
Field Methods in Geography

This information is for the 2021/22 session.

Teacher responsible

Dr Ryan Centner STC 6.01c


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 & qualitative methods in independent geography research projects

2. Observation & ethnography in human geography

3. Interviews & focus groups as qualitative methods

4. Transecting in field research

5. Field journals

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


In the Department of Geography and Environment, teaching will be delivered through a combination of classes/seminars, pre-recorded lectures, live online lectures, in-person lectures and other supplementary interactive live activities.

Field-course: The course includes a one week-long field trip, normally in the final week of the Lent Term. In the past the field course has visited Havana, Cuba. The destination, duration and content of the field trip in 2020/21 is subject to change, depending on the global situation regarding coronavirus and restrictions on travel.

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.

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

Formative coursework

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

Indicative reading

• Chilson, P. and Mulcahy, J.B. (2017) Writing abroad: A guide for travelers. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

• Bastian, H. (2019) Everyday adjustments in Havana: Economic reforms, mobility, and emerging inequalities. Lanham: Lexington Books.

• 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: 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.

• 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%) and research proposal (20%) in the ST.
Class participation (20%) in the LT.


Course selection videos

Some departments have produced short videos to introduce their courses. Please refer to the course selection videos index page for further information.

Student performance results

(2018/19 - 2020/21 combined)

Classification % of students
First 35.7
2:1 45.9
2:2 13.3
Third 4.1
Fail 1

Important information in response to COVID-19

Please note that during 2021/22 academic year some variation to teaching and learning activities may be required to respond to changes in public health advice and/or to account for the differing needs of students in attendance on campus and those who might be studying online. For example, this may involve changes to the mode of teaching delivery and/or the format or weighting of assessments. Changes will only be made if required and students will be notified about any changes to teaching or assessment plans at the earliest opportunity.

Key facts

Department: Geography & Environment

Total students 2020/21: 32

Average class size 2020/21: 10

Capped 2020/21: 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