Top 10 Books for Fieldwork and Research in Human Geography

It’s the beginning of the academic year and lots of students will be returning to university. For those of you who are about to embark any fieldwork or research in human geography, this post points to the books I have found the most useful over the years. In no particular order:

1) Fieldwork for Human Geography – Richard Phillips and Jennifer Johns

10Any good geographer realises the importance of fieldwork and this book gives a great overview of the different aspects of research in human geography. It highlights the important stages of fieldwork including planning, data collection, analysis and reflection and in particular discusses a range of issues which require consideration. If you’re looking for a good introduction to how to approach fieldwork in human geography this would be a good place to start.

2) Politics and Practice in Economic Geography – Adam Tickell, Eric Sheppard, Jamie Peck and Trevor Barnes

T9This book was recommended to me by my former PhD supervisors and it became one of my favourite methodology books for my doctoral research. Don’t let the title put you off, its not just about politics or economic geography, if provides discussions about the research experiences and the issues that stem from them from a range of established academics. If you intend to use interviews in your research this should be high on your reading list. There is a chapter which likens interview participants (in particular those considered ‘elites’, such as businessmen) to pufferfish, an image which stuck with me during the research process.

3) Philosophy of the Social Sciences: An Introduction – Robert Bishop

T8This is not a geography textbook as such, but it is important nonetheless. It is important that research in human geography (and the broader social sciences) has clear philosophical and theoretical foundations. These ideas may influence whether you collect qualitative or quantitative data, and contribute greatly to how data is collected and interpreted. Considering your ‘approach’ is an important part of the research process and this book really helped me get to grips with all the different approaches, and associated terminology. It’s a book that can be read as it is, but is also a great reference guide.


4) Key Methods in Geography Nicholas Clifford and Gill Valentine

T7A good general textbook for both physical and human geographers. As an edited volume it contains lots of short chapters on different aspects of geographic research – good as a reference guide.

5) Methods in Human Geography: A guide for students doing a research project – Robin Flowerdew and David Martin

T6A good comprehensive guide to undertaking research in human geography, covering all aspects of the research from the theoretical foundations of research, to choosing a topic, to illustrating the final report. This can act as an introductory guide to methods used by human geographers but also as a handbook for the research project more widely.

6) Practising Human Geography – Paul Cloke, Ian Cook, Phillip Crang, Mark Goodwin, Joe Painter and Christopher Philo

T5This book was indispensable at the beginning of my Master’s research project. The chapters are divided into two sections: Constructing Geographical Data and Constructing Geographical Interpretations. It provided a lot of guidance around the issues of data collection and the implications this had for analysis. It covers a wide range of data collection methods and data types and as many of the books in this list would be a good reference guide even if it isn’t all applicable.

7) Dictionary of Human Geography –  Derek Gregory, Ron Johnston, Geraldine Pratt, Michael Watts and Sarah Whatmore

T4As an undergraduate I was faced with many terms I was unfamiliar with, or didn’t understand. This book helped me deal with this. It’s a great reference guide providing short introductions to terms, issues, topics and approaches. It then provides suggestions as where to go next for further information. I now have an ebook version of this and still use it as a reference guide – even as an experienced researcher I still need a reliable guide I can turn to. This is probably one of my most well used geography textbooks.

8) Conducting Research in Human Geography – Rob Kitchin and Nicholas Tate

T3I used this book quite a lot of the beginning of my Master’s research (although is perfectly accessible for undergraduates) and it provides a good overview of the different elements of the research process for human geographers. It’s a clear accessible guide which considers theory behind methods, research in practice, and processes of data analysis.

9) How to do a dissertation in Geography and related disciplines  – Tony Parsons and Peter Knight.

T2For many students doing a dissertation is a daunting tasks. I often recommend this book as it asks a lot of questions about the dissertation process and can help students think about what they want to do and how to achieve it. It even has a chapter titled ‘Help! It’s all gone terribly wrong. What can I do?’ Whilst most research does not go terribly wrong, it often doesn’t go to plan so it’s important to think about these things. While doing my PhD research I got stranded in the USA by an Icelandic volcano ash cloud – that definitely wasn’t in my initial research plan.

10) Qualitative Research Methods in Human Geography – Iain Hay

T1If you’re thinking of using interviews, focus groups, participant observation or other qualitative methods then you should have a look at this book. It considers the place of qualitative research as well as its theoretical issues, and implications for data analysis.




So there’s my list of top books on research and fieldwork I have used over the years. There are many more that I have used and have relied on, but if I wanted some places to start, the books in this post would be good choices.

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