Doing Research Remotely

Where can human geographers conduct their research? Where can you, as a student of the discipline, undertake data collection work for your dissertation? Typically, human geographers can visit and work in many different fields for their independent projects, often (but not always) which take them away from the desk, to engage with the people and places at the heart of their study.

This way of working, has, for now, changed radically with the arrival of Coronavirus. Geographers around the world have been unable to visit field sites, conduct ethnographic work, meet interviewees, host focus groups, go to archives - or at least not in ‘conventional’ ways. Whilst this comes with disappointments, especially for students like yourself who have likely been eager to conduct research ‘first hand’ with people in the ‘field’ - this moment also enables us to think critically about the work we do as geographers, where we do it, where we can do, and should do it. For example, is it always necessary to travel to undertake research? What privileges enable (some of) us to visit research fields (of being physically able to make particular journeys or to have the time, money or even citizenship credentials to do so?) What are the environmental costs of our research in CO2 emissions? Are there more just, equitable and accessible ways to do our work?

The ‘field’ in Geography is not simply the array of cities, towns, streets, libraries, cafes, nature reserves, sites of protest, forms of transport (to name just a few) where we might ‘do’ research. The field is also wider than this. We can access sites of research from our armchair in the shape of textual research (i.e. policy analysis, see Aitken 2005) or via the web (through the use of digital archives, to conducting Skype interviews to launching questionnaires virtually). These spaces (the textual, the online) and the expanded field (as Ian Cook et al puts it, 2001) of sites of research such as our living room, office, etc. which become part of the research process, are now, more than ever important in our geographically reshaped world.

The global pandemic has certainly, for now, changed how we move, where we go, the spaces and place we can access and the people we can meet. It facilitates new ways of working geographically in the pursuit of studies of geography. Whilst some researchers have always worked remotely with communities, individuals, or to visited distanced places virtually in their work, such ways and means of doing research have taken on increased importance.

With this in mind, Dr António Ferraz de Oliveira, a Research Fellow and Political Geographer at the University of Cambridge, has compiled a fantastic resource (with the help of colleagues) offering a guide to remote researching. He introduces this resource in the video below.


You can access the resource, which includes helpful overviews of methods, as well as recommended readings. It is worth spending some time reading through the resource during all stages of your project - Designing, Doing, Delivering.