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Approaches to Geographical Knowledge

Module titleApproaches to Geographical Knowledge
Module codeGEO1401B
Academic year2023/4
Module staff

Dr Jon Bennie (Convenor)

Professor Caitlin DeSilvey (Lecturer)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks


Number students taking module (anticipated)


Description - summary of the module content

Module description

What defines geography as an academic discipline? This module tells the story of geography's growth and development, introducing you to key philosophical and theoretical ideas and tracing their connection to the diversity of research approaches in contemporary human and physical geography. A series of practical exercises will make abstract ideas explicit and provide a grounded introduction to geographical research and knowledge-making. A familiar and real-world example - ‘the beach’ - will be used as an entry point to basic questions of philosophy, returning to this to illustrate and to explain the links between philosophy, theory, and methodology.

Module aims - intentions of the module

This module aims to introduce you to the development of geographic thought and to illustrate the range and diversity of approaches in contemporary human and physical geography. You will be encouraged to work in groups to explore contemporary issues. This module will also help you to develop and extend your awareness of the importance of taught and learnt skills in strengthening employability potential, especially through the application of critical analytical skills, working in groups to a brief, time management, and working in interdisciplinary contexts.

More specifically, the emphasis on group work and weekly tasks will provide an opportunity for you to develop skills of teamwork, leadership and project planning. The teaching contributions on this module involve elements of research undertaken by module staff, such as work on human relationships with place and heritage (DeSilvey) and the ecology of environmental change (Bennie).

Module field trips may have to be moved online/replaced in the event of continued COVID-19 lockdown/social distancing rules.

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 1. Review with guidance the key developments in the history of geographic thought over the last 150 years
  • 2. Describe in a basic way the philosophical and epistemological underpinnings of geographical knowledge
  • 3. Show an awareness and basic comprehension of geography as a category of knowledge produced in and through many different institutional, social, scientific and cultural contexts
  • 4. Recognise the diversity of sources utilised in producing geographical knowledge

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 5. Describe essential facts and theory across a sub-discipline of geography
  • 6. Identify critical questions from the literature and synthesise research-informed examples into written work
  • 7. Identify and implement, with some guidance, appropriate methodologies and theories for addressing a specific research problem in geography
  • 8. With guidance, deploy established techniques of analysis, practical investigation, and enquiry within geography
  • 9. Describe and begin to evaluate approaches to our understanding of geography with reference to primary literature, reviews and research articles

ILO: Personal and key skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 10. Develop, with guidance, a logical and reasoned argument with sound conclusions
  • 11. Communicate ideas, principles and theories using a variety of formats in a manner appropriate to the intended audience
  • 12. Collect and interpret appropriate data and undertake straightforward research tasks with guidance
  • 13. Evaluate own strengths and weaknesses in relation to professional and practical skills identified by others
  • 14. Reflect on learning experiences and summarise personal achievements

Syllabus plan

Syllabus plan

Whilst the module’s precise content may vary from year to year, it is envisaged that the syllabus will cover some or all of the following topics:

  • Introduction to the module
  • Positivism (methods practical 1: faunal shore survey/quantitative beach user survey)
  • Critical rationalism
  • Marxism and critical realism (methods practical 2: researching social-ecological systems)
  • Phenomenology and post-phenomenology
  • Social constructionism and feminism (methods practical 3: ethnography/participant observation)
  • Structuralism, poststructuralism and postmodernism
  • Complexity theory (methods practical 4: mapping forms and patterns)
  • Moral philosophy and ethics
  • Constructing geography (methods practical 5: synthesis at the beach)

Learning and teaching

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled Learning and Teaching 15Lectures
Scheduled Learning and Teaching 15Practical exercises and wiki production: Module field trips may have to be moved online/replaced in the event of continued COVID-19 lockdown/social distancing rules
Guided independent study120Additional research, reading and preparation for module assessments


Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Written contributions to forums and group seminar discussions, linked to practical tasksOngoing throughout the moduleAllWritten (on ELE group forums as comments) and oral (in workshops)

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Essay (mock research proposal)701500 owrds1-12Written
Report (staff member research bio)301000 words3,4,9,10Written


Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
Essay (mock research proposal)Essay (mock research proposal)1-12August Assessment Period
Report (staff member research bio)Practical report/reflection3,4,9,10August Assessment Period

Re-assessment notes

Deferral – if you miss an assessment for certificated reasons judged acceptable by the Mitigation Committee, you will normally be either deferred in the assessment or an extension may be granted. The mark given for a re-assessment taken as a result of deferral will not be capped and will be treated as it would be if it were your first attempt at the assessment.

Referral – if you have failed the module overall (i.e. a final overall module mark of less than 40%) you will be required to submit a further assessment. If you are successful on referral, your overall module mark will be capped at 40%.


Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

  • Cloke, P., Crang, P., Goodwin, M. (1999) Introducing Human Geographies, (London, Arnold).
  • Cloke, P., Philo, C. and Sadler (1991) Approaching Human Geography, (London, Paul Chapman Publishing).
  • Couper, P (2015) A Student’s Introduction to Geographical Thought (Sage)
  • Johnston, R., Gregory, D., Smith, D.M. (1994) Dictionary of Human Geography (3rd Edition), (Oxford, Blackwell).
  • Thomas, B.A. (2000) The Dictionary of Physical Geography, (Oxford, Blackwell).
  • Gregory, K. (2000) The Changing Nature of Physical Geography, (London, Hodder Arnold).
  • Trudgill, S. and Roy, A. (2003) Contemporary Meanings In Physical Geography, (London, Hodder Arnold)

Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

Module has an active ELE page

Key words search

Marxism, poststructuralism, positivism, postmodernism, feminism, science, geomorphology, landscape, reductionism, emergence, nature, culture, realism, complexity

Credit value15
Module ECTS


Module pre-requisites


Module co-requisites


NQF level (module)


Available as distance learning?


Origin date


Last revision date