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Unit information: Qualitative Research Methods in Human Geography in 2019/20

Please note: Due to alternative arrangements for teaching and assessment in place from 18 March 2020 to mitigate against the restrictions in place due to COVID-19, information shown for 2019/20 may not always be accurate.

Please note: you are viewing unit and programme information for a past academic year. Please see the current academic year for up to date information.

Unit name Qualitative Research Methods in Human Geography
Unit code GEOGM0041
Credit points 20
Level of study M/7
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 1 (weeks 1 - 12)
Unit director Dr. Cole
Open unit status Not open




School/department School of Geographical Sciences
Faculty Faculty of Science


This course is designed to build student capacity to evaluate the research practice, data and interpretations of others and be sensitive to ethical, political and value concerns in qualitative research. The course develops expertise in assessing how quantitative methods are used across academic writing, applied knowledge and evidence-based policy. It ensures that students can themselves select and use appropriate qualitative methods in their own geographical research. The course compliments the research design and ethics training offered in the Dissertation unit.

A review of qualitative research carried out by human geographers over the last 40 years provides the platform for the main emphasis of the course - on a range of qualitative methods including archives, mapping, focus groups, documentary research, interviews and participant observation. The importance of marrying theory to practice is emphasized with a focus on the importance of the choice of method employed in conducting empirical research.


  • To expand the range of methodological experience and competence in preparation for framing and conducting a dissertation.
  • To familiarise students from diverse disciplinary backgrounds with the methodological issues underpinning a qualitative approach to doing research
  • To expose students to a range of different qualitative methods
  • To enable students to gain experience of using different qualitative methods through practice
  • To give students the awareness that their methodological decisions shape the outcomes of research
  • To instruct students in the importance of linking theory with practice.
  • To review the expectations of how methods are produced in published work.
  • To prepare students to produce the methodology sections of their own dissertations.

Intended learning outcomes

On completion of this Unit students should be able to:

  1. Understand the theoretical and practical issues underpinning the application of qualitative research methods in the production of their own research;
  2. Conduct, and critically evaluate the appropriate use of, a range of qualitative methods;
  3. Understand and be able to mitigate the limits of particular quantitative methods.

The following transferable skills are developed in this Unit:

  • Written and verbal communication
  • Techniques in applying particular qualitative methods
  • Problem solving
  • Lateral and strategic thinking
  • Analytical skills
  • Planning and design of research methods for a specific problem

Teaching details

This unit is taught using seminars which combine a critical introduction to each method along with practical tasks related to the method under consideration.

Assessment Details


In preparation for seminars students will prepare (individually) a short motivation for or a critical reflection of the particular method under review.


(25%) A 1500-word written assessment based on an in-class practical [ILOs 1-3]

(75%) A 3000-word written report [ILOs 1-3]

Reading and References

Recommended Reading:

  1. Aitken, S. and G. Valentine (eds) Approaches to Human Geography. (London: Sage, 2006).
  2. Clifford, N., French S. and Valentine, G. (eds.) (2010) Key Methods in Geography (London: Sage).
  3. DeLyser, D., S. Herbert, S. Aitken, M. Crang and L. McDowell (eds) (2009) The SAGE Handbook of Qualitative Geography (London: Sage).
  4. Flowerdew, R. and Martin, D. (eds) (2005) Methods in Human Geography: A guide for students doing a research project (London: Prentice Hall)
  5. Hay I. (ed) 2nd ed (2005), Qualitative Methods in Human Geography. (Oxford: Oxford University Press)
  6. Kitchen, R. & Tate, N.J. (2000) Conducting Research into Human Geography: Theory, Methodology and Practice, (London: Prentice Hall)