Human Geography has a number of subgroups that bring expertise together on particular topics.
‘Big Data’ designates the “growing technological ability to capture, aggregate, and process an ever-greater volume, velocity, and variety of data” from both curated (purposefully collected and organized) and non-curated datasets (e.g., piecemeal social media posts that may be treated as datasets in the aggregate), many of which are often available at low cost (Executive Office of the President, 2014).
It has been estimated that 80% of big data is spatial in nature (e.g., has either been geotagged/georeferenced, or refers to particular spaces and/or places) (Farmer and Pozdnoukhov, 2012). Accordingly, big data presents great opportunities but also challenges for geography.
The analytics of such data are increasingly driving corporate and business strategy; informing economic, social, and urban policy; providing new sources of evidence for climate science research and the study of various urban processes; allowing for the discovery of new disease patterns and dynamics, unpacking the complexity of urban dynamics.
This necessitates the development of new methodologies, both qualitative and quantitative, for engaging with, synthesizing, visualizing, and analyzing data.
In parallel, big data requires new conceptual and critical approaches for apprehending the pronounced implications of the ways in which big data are bound up in the production of socio-spatial relations, in which they are increasingly implicated in materially structuring the practices and spaces of everyday life.
Adapting to Environmental and Energy Uncertainties
The necessities of mitigating climate change and adapting to the environmental changes it brings continue to be definitive challenges of our times.
How we produce and consume energy needs radical rethinking, which entails examining the energy metabolism of all aspects of our lives: how we work, learn, care for ourselves and others, enjoy ourselves, and move around.
Climatic disturbance is having myriad environmental effects with changes in weather patterns, water resources, speciation and agricultural output that are unpredictable but also likely to intensify. These are inherently social and political problems.
Communities across scales from the household through the neighbourhood and nation to international bodies need robust governance arrangements that can develop strategies to address and react to these challenges.
The issues that arise and potential courses of action taken in response are rarely evenly felt, and care must be taken to ensure that environmental change and energy challenges are addressed in a fair manner that avoids creating new social divisions, or deepening existing ones.
Fairness and resilience necessitate the inclusion of multiple voices and different forms of knowledge, which includes learning from the past and across cultures as well as working collaboratively both in the sense of formal multi-disciplinarity and in the sense of co-operation between academic, policy and public communities.
Bodies, Landscapes and Materialities
The diversity human behaviour in specific socio-spatial contexts is a long-running geographical concern which has posed significant challenges for geographers over the development of the discipline.
Several explanations for a wide range of behaviours over distinct sites have been pursued by human geographers over the past 50 years. More recently, geographers have turned their attentions to the affective and embodied aspects of everyday practice as well as the emotional and subjective, experiences of a variety of material and symbolic landscapes. It is now well established that such practices can be highly gendered, racialised, classed and context-dependent.
An understanding of identity and social relationships is integral to developing informed analyses of the geographies of diverse bodies, landscapes and materialities. Also essential to this endeavour is a sensitivity to the dynamics of power, the drivers of social change and the material infrastructures which shape the contexts in which human activity takes place.
These attentions are illuminated by ongoing engagements with psychology, cultural studies, law, politics, the arts, and social theoretic accounts of and innovations in human activity.
Research undertaken within this research cluster has examined the role of artistic and creative practice in urban transformation, the design and architecture of prison spaces, the spatial politics of behaviour change in public policy, issues of social justice associated with new spatial media and the spatialities of Caribbean and British cultural practice and literature; and children and young people’s movement, place and interaction in changing urban spaces.
The Economic Geography subgroup covers a lot of ground in terms of the breadth and depth of the topics under study, ranging from the role of Information and Communication Technologies in business formation in the USA to informal economic practices of gulag survivors in the Russian Far East.
The cluster is fairly diverse in its epistemological, ontological, and methodological outlook. It encompasses original research which utilises robust statistical modelling techniques as well as qualitative methods.
The bulk of the research undertaken within the cluster has been about spatial economic analysis, urban and regional economic geography, and (in)formal economic practices in transitional space-economies.