Human Geography Topics For Research Paper

Below is a list of potential topics in the area of Human Geography. These are examples to give an idea of possible projects and the range of human geography research interests and themes covered by the department. This is not a full list and not all academic staff interests are shown here. Other projects that are related to the research areas within Human Geography (or interdisciplinary links with Physical Geography or other cognate disciplines) are also welcome.

For further information on research interests please visit the Research Clusters & Themes page.

For more information and questions on research topics please consult the research group websites (above) or contact a potential supervisor within your research area of interest or the Human Geography Postgraduate Admissions tutor (human.rpgadmissions@durham.ac.uk).

Proposals for postgraduate research are invited which complement the agenda of a new Centre for Medical Humanities (funded by Wellcome). The Centre aims to interrogate the role that medical knowledge does, and should, play in shaping conceptions of human flourishing and vice versa. Within this broad agenda, themes being explored and developed include:

  • The Role of the Creativity in Health and Wellbeing
    Contemporary debates about the nature of wellbeing or human flourishing, rather than the limited concept of health, make explicit the breadth of contexts and experiences that constitute being well. Creative acts, however defined in modern society, have been included as intrinsic and non-substitutable elements in definitions of human flourishing. As part of the Centre’s work, we aim to build a body of work to explore the opportunities, experiences and meanings attached to engagement with creativity. Creativity here may range from engagement with the more formal arts (theatre, music, dance) whether as performer or audience, or more informal acts of self-expression from reading, gardening, decorating etc.
  • Experience, Medical Knowledge and Individuals
    The nature of legitimate knowledge has been subject to critique and debate, yet the nature of an embodied, experiential knowledge is still treated as at best of second rate interest and at worst, when it clashes with the professional knowledge base, as ill-informed. Applications within this theme are welcomed in the following:
    (i) Research that explores the relationships at a more individual scale between experience and a range of other categories central to medical practice such as evaluation, action, self-identity and so forth, largely in collaboration with medical anthropologists. Research that has a particular interest in exploring these relationships with respect to complex chronic diseases (eg diabetes, cardiovascular disease) and health promotion is especially welcome.
    (ii) Research that explores the interactions of emotions and values with organisational structures and procedures in the health system. Opportunities and barriers to innovation within health systems, the complexities of processes affecting policy implementation and the particular dynamics of the hybrid organisational form of the social enterprise are of particular interest.
    (iii) Research on the processes by which what has been termed cognitive globalisation may impact on health, health care and wellbeing. This sub-theme includes the ways information about our bodies and our health is produced and disseminated in modern society, through the mass media and the internet.
  • Caring Practice and Flourishing
    The notion of caring has on the one hand been promoted as a lens through which we might bring together aspects of health and health care that have typically been fragmented and on the other denigrated as a patronising category automatically constructing the recipient as dependent. Projects seeking to explore the nature of practices of caring for the body in relation to specific sites and settings are welcomed.

Staff Profile

  • Critical approaches to climate change and human migration, especially those that emphasise racialisation, neoliberalism and political geography
  • The socio-political construction of nature (broadly defined) with a specific emphasis on environmental political discourses
  • I am currently reading across a range of literatures and bodies of theory including posthumanism, critical race theory, queer theory, and (aspirationally) speculative realism

Staff Profile

  • Geographies of war, violence, and cultural heritage in conflict zones
  • Theories of violence and worldliness in the works of Agamben, Arendt, Heidegger, Jameson, Lefebvre, and Sloterdijk
  • Critical theories of technology and computing

Staff Profile

  • Natural resources, using political economy and political ecology approaches: e.g. research that asks questions about resource scarcity, energy security, resource access, and the commodification and marketisation of environmental goods and services
  • Raw material supply chains, particularly energy and minerals: e.g. research that examines how global production networks for critical materials are organised and coordinated in ways that generate economic value, and sustain social power
  • Geographies of energy, focusing on questions of transition and governance: e.g. research that is interested to understand the spatial and territorial consequences of evolving energy systems

Staff Profile

  • Urban responses to climate change, including mitigation, adaptation and 'nature based' solutions, and the issues of governance, politics, socio-technical transitions, innovation, experimentation and justice that they raise
  • The nature and politics of decarbonisation beyond the nation-state, e.g. in transnational, private sector or community arenas, new forms of low carbon finance, production, consumption
  • Energy systems in transition - the social and political aspects of smart grids, renewables, and low carbon technologies, everyday practice and household energy dynamics

Staff Profile

  • Gender and Development (also called Feminist Political Economy)
  • Feminist International Relations
  • Feminist activism and transnational social movements

Staff Profile

  • Mental health geography
  • Historical geography of psychiatry, psychology, psychoanalysis, and cognitive neuroscience (from late nineteenth century to the twenty-first century)
  • Interdisciplinarity as a concept with a history; also: interdisciplinary research projects that bridge the social sciences, humanities and the cognitive neurosciences

Staff Profile

  • Transnational migration and bordering practices
  • Feminist geographies
  • Development and impacts of globalisation in the Global South

Staff Profile

  • Geographies of the body, including work interested in sexual difference, size, age, materiality, affect and emotion and maternity
  • Geographical engagements with poststructuralist feminist theory
  • Critical geographies of obesity and Fat Studies / Health at Every Size (HAES) orientated research on topics including, but not restricted to activism, size discrimination, fat identities and sexualities, obesity policy and medical / non-medical obesity interventions

Staff Profile

  • Tourism and its cultural effects, heritage and its marketing
  • Waste, disposal, ruins, rubbish and recycling
  • Smart cities, data and urban governance

Staff Profile

  • Class and inequality
  • Ethnic conflict, territoriality and intersections with the above
  • Historical geography in general and historical GIS applications more specifically

Staff Profile

  • Consumption & Disposal
  • 'Recycling' & Waste Economies
  • Science in Practice

Staff Profile

  • Money: from the role of national and regional currencies in global markets to digital currencies and local exchange systems
  • Debt: from sovereign borrowing, bond rating and fiscal austerity to the embodied and lived experiences of household and individual indebtedness
  • Finance: from wholesale markets and popular cultures of finance as entertainment to social finance and digital alternatives such as crowdfunding

Staff Profile

  • The spatiality of political conflict, including but not restricted to: practices of social and cultural survival in periods of conflict and its aftermath; material and visual culture; legacies of conflict and memory regimes
  • Archives of violence: testimony and the narration of violent space; different repositories that collect, store and organise this knowledge; official, improvised, communal and activist archiving practices
  • Making / unmaking settler-colonial geographies: practices and materialities of settler space; settler anxieties and failures; indigenous-settler encounter; theories of settler-colonialism- states, spaces, discourses and imaginations

Staff Profile

  • Urban Natures, Smart Cities and Digital Urbanisms: a critical analysis of the ways in which computing and digital technologies are changing both the city and its infrastructures, including (but not limited to) an examination of how nature and urban metabolic flows are re-imagined in the context of an emerging digital urbanism
  • Energy Geographies: geography is mobilising a type of 'energy social science' that is unpacking the social, cultural, and political dimensions of energy production and consumption. This includes an examination of the spatial and political implications of energy transitions, and a social analysis of currently changing energy regimes and practices across scale (from nations to cities, neighbourhoods and communities)
  • Responding to Climate Change in Cities in the Global South: a critical evaluation of urban responses to climate change in cities in the global South, considering disruptions and re-makings of the relationship between climate mitigation, climate adaptation, urban security and development modes

Staff Profile

  • Feminist, political, and legal geographies
  • Critical approaches to migration and border control, including detention, processing, accommodation, and deportation regimes; legal geographies of asylum and immigration policies; migrant protest; politics of belonging and citizenship
  • The politics of family, children, kinship, and sexuality, especially as it intersects with immigration, asylum, and refugee law and border policing

Staff Profile

  • Geographical research informed by postcolonial, de-colonial or feminist theories
  • Critical and cultural geographies of development
  • Geographies of transformation in South Africa

Staff Profile

  • Life on the economic margins of the city
  • Planning cities, poverty, and inequality
  • Urban theory and concepts

Staff Profile

  • Work, labour and employment, particularly: unfreedom in labour relations (forced labour, unfree labour, human trafficking and 'contemporary slavery'); unregulated work and violations of labour and employment law; contingent, precarious or degrading work; migrant labour and labour migration; race, gender and work; social movements around issues of work and employment; labour regulation
  • Global Production Networks (supply chains): labour within production networks; theorisation of value within global production networks; bioethanol production networks
  • Rising Powers / BRICS, especially Brazil: South-South Cooperation and South-South globalisation; discourses around the BRICS; Brazil in Africa; Brazil in the international development and trade regimes; Brazilian visions of development

Staff Profile

  • State, citizenship and the politics of everyday life
  • Urban politics and governance
  • Social innovation and creativity

Staff Profile

  • The 'rising powers' and 'South-South co-operation' in sub-Saharan Africa
  • Critical geopolitics and spaces of (post)development
  • Energy geographies and low carbon transition in the global South

Staff Profile

  • Governance and constructions of sovereignty, territory, and borders in spaces other than solid land (e.g. oceans, air, outer space, wetlands, barrier islands, ice, etc.)
  • Critical perspectives on cartography, mapping, and representation
  • Arctic politics

Staff Profile

  • Population health and the social determinants of health as well as their relationships with social inequality
  • Risk, cost benefit and return on investment evaluations; providing evidence of the effectiveness and cost effectiveness of public health interventions in a time of austerity
  • The dynamics of primary care in a UK context, more specifically pharmacy access in socially deprived areas versus affluent areas

Staff Profile

When approaching a topic such as geography, like many other subjects, it may be a bit difficult to identify a specific area to research-especially considering the vastness of some fields. Unless given prior direction from an instructor or an assignment detail, the first major issue you want to tackle is what type of geography you'd like to explore. The field of geography is made up of three main divisions; human, physical, and environmental geography.

If you have a scientific or empirical research model in mind for your project, you may be looking towards a topic in physical geography. And if you feel somewhat influenced by fields such as psychology and sociology, then you may be more interested in the qualitative and theoretical studies conducted within human geography.

And finally, environmental geography lies between the two and can be approached from both angles, physical and human, as by definition it addresses human interactions with the environment. The field of environmental geography also may address major societal concerns such as the consumption of resources and population decrease and increase. Considering this, an environmental paper may take an empirical or theoretical approach, or a qualitative or quantitative one, depending on the characteristics of the topic and the best means of satisfying any research question connected to it.

Human geography

If you find yourself leaning towards the more humanistic aspects of geography you can start your topic selection by identifying exactly which key components make up human geography. In essence, since human geography deals with various facets of human life the subcategories that comprise it have much to do with our daily lives. Some of these things include culture, economics, health, and politics. And the foremost amongst them is the cultural perspective; so much so that human geography is sometimes referred to as cultural geography (suggesting the overall impact of this subcategory on the topic of human geography).

Choosing a cultural geography topic

The cornerstone of cultural geography is how humans interact and carry out their lives from place to place (or spatially) with respect to specific cultural elements. Each of these elements can easily be used as a starting point of research (you can use them to brainstorm ideas for related topics). A partial list of these cultural elements is provided below.

  1. Religion
  2. Language
  3. Food
  4. Architecture
  5. Recreational activities/sports
  6. Clothing
  7. Education
  8. Gender roles
  9. Principles and values
  10. Marriage and other pivotal relationships

Sample topics that may be crafted based on these titles

Any one of these categories can be taken to produce a suitable research topic. For instance, if you are interested in clothing for a particular region you may choose to investigate how the clothing traditions of that area evolved over time and what particular influences attributed to the current or past clothing practices of the people.

Likewise a similar angle can be taken with food or cuisine. You may decide to analyze the impact of several cultures on American cuisine for example, as well as how the demands of certain foods may have changed from place to place within the continental United States.

Also gender roles are always special areas of interest as they deal with how a society addresses and handles its most significant roles; the role of the man and the role of the woman. A research topic covering this area may decide to address the differences in patriarchal as well as matriarchal societies with regards to space and time and how certain spatial factors may have impacted these roles in societies.

Physical geography

The other more scientific approach to geography is known as physical geography. This area will more than likely involve quantitative studies in which students will choose to examine specific elements of the earth's surface. Physical geography, by definition, looks at the physical structures, processes, patterns and changes that occur throughout the Earth as they relate to human beings and their ability to function. Some key issues connected to physical geography (which may spark an interest for research) are:

  1. Oceanography - a field related to large bodies of water; seas and oceans
  2. Climatology - this field studies long term weather conditions and categorizations
  3. Meteorology - relates to the earth's atmosphere, and short term weather forecasting
  4. Glaciology - examines things connected to ice such as glaciers and snow
  5. Hydrology - is related to small bodies of water on the Earth's surface as well as the hydrologic cycle

Without much difficulty any student should be able to take one of these categories and devise a reasonable enough research topic to be investigated. One example is with glaciology. A study in glaciology may look to examine polar ice sheets, for example, based off of satellite data as well as current information provided in geographic databases. Since most students won't be able to make it to Antarctica this type of research is great for providing empirical studies without physical samples and in-person measurements.

Up Next: Refine your topic

So now that you have a basic idea of which areas to concentrate on, what's next? The next step is to conduct preliminary research on your prospective topic to more precisely identify what to research. This involves checking a few basic sources for information;

  1. General and Geography-specific dictionaries
  2. Encyclopedias - For example you can utilize 'The Encyclopedia of Geography' to gain more information on your specific area of geography
  3. Conduct general internet searches or database searches through your local library - Database searches can be done using systems such as 'Academic Search Premier' or 'GeoBase'

Utilizing these basic search methods before delving further into your research (for example, before you undergo an experiment, specific study, or read several titles) will enable you to better refine your topic and thoroughly identify what needs to be studied in your particular area of interest. This step is a crucial one, as unless you are very familiar with a particular subject area there is really know what for you to nail down a research topic specific enough to be studied right away (though it can happen from time to time!). Overall the best means of narrowing your topic is to follow through with the preliminary research to find out what your topic comprises, its main objective, and some idea as to what other researchers have already accomplished in this area.

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