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School of Environment, Education and Development

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BSc Geography

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BSc Geography / Course details

Year of entry: 2018

Course unit details:
Moral Geographies

Unit code GEOG21432
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 2
Teaching period(s) Semester 2
Offered by School of Environment, Education and Development
Available as a free choice unit? Yes


This course takes a geographical approach to some of the world’s most complex moral issues.


We live in a world that is saturated with information, opinion and debate. The rise of the Internet and smartphone technology has also meant that comment and opinion is freer than ever before. Sometimes it seems as if everyone has a view about everything, from the trivial to the world changing! Talking heads offer their firmly held beliefs while polemicists offer a veneer of certainty to people in an uncertain world. Implicitly or explicitly, when we talk about politics, the environment and society, we are making value judgements.


However, what is considered to be good or right is too often assumed or taken for granted. Arguments using value premises are not necessarily as clear-cut as some would have you believe. Therefore we need to have the tools to reflect on why we believe certain things to be right or true in order to justify and defend our positions.


Moral Geographies will give you the chance to explore a range of moral questions from a geographical perspective. Arguably a geographical perspective, which embraces knowledge from other disciplines and not only its own, is well-placed to ‘join the dots’ and grapple with the complexity of the world as it is, not how we want it to be. It will explore these complex issues using a multi-scalar, place-sensitive approach, embracing not only key geographical thinkers, but also philosophers, political scientists, sociologists, psychologists and economists. Each week we will take a different topic and case study, outline the key parameters of the debate, before uncovering and grappling with some of the moral dilemmas associated with the topic.


This course is not just for those of you who are already interested in politics and morality. It’s also for those that are sometimes unsure what to think; the sceptics wary of claims to truth and certainty, who worry that the more you learn about a topic, the less certain you seem to be about it. Thus, one of the aims of the course is to question the instinctive assumptions that we often assume to be true and to reflect more deeply on these, in order to help you improve your ability to debate and argue in a logical and reasoned manner.


Through a genuinely open approach, unafraid of tackling ‘dangerous ideas’, Moral Geographies aims to get you to engage critically with your own and others’ beliefs, while equipping you with the tools to better navigate complex and uncertain moral terrain.  


  • To explore the morally complex nature of a range of topical issues facing the world today
  • To appreciate the role of a geographical approach in tackling a number of contemporary moral conflicts
  • To embrace an ‘all of the above’, inter-disciplinary and multi-media approach to tackling moral questions
  • To bring theories and arguments to life using case studies
  • To discuss and debate moral questions in an inclusive and constructive manner 

Learning outcomes

By the end of the course unit, you should be able to:

  • Critically engage with moral geographies as a distinct field of geographical research
  • Understand the relationship between moral philosophy and a geographical approach
  • Better navigate the polarised debates that dominate contemporary society through taking a genuinely critical and sceptical approach to knowledge
  • Reflect on your own values and those of others, in both a personal and professional context
  • Independently research and write about a contemporary moral conflict
  • Be able to apply the critical and analytical skills developed during the course in your dissertation and in everyday life


1:            Introducing Moral Geographies: Freedom of Speech on Campus

2:            Inequality: The Root of All Evil?

3:            The Ethics of Consumption

4:            The Politics of Sex Work (Featuring Guest Speaker)

5:            Climate Change and the Merchants of Doubt

6:            Study Week

7:            The Dis-United States of America

8:            Geopolitics and Realpolitik in the 21st Century

9:            Study Week

10:          Freedom of Movement

11:          Learning to Live in the Anthropocene

12:          Concluding Moral Geographies: Moral Clarity, or Shades of Grey?

Teaching and learning methods

The course unit will be delivered via a 2+1 format, namely a two-hour lecture and a one-hour seminar each week. The lecture sessions will be interactive and will encourage discussion and questions. Sessions will draw upon a range of resources, from videos to photographic images. The seminars will compliment the lectures by allowing for more debate, as well as the chance to critically engage with readings and other media, from documentaries to podcasts. 

Transferable skills and personal qualities

  • Critical thinking, reflection and self-awareness
  • Information handling skills, evaluation and analysis of different kinds of evidence
  • An ability to consider the merits of contrasting theories and approaches
  • An ability to understand the real-world complexity of many contemporary issues
  • Debating and group working skills
  • Motivation and self-directed learning
  • Awareness of your own values, assumptions and biases

Assessment methods


Students will be assessed by a piece of individual coursework worth 50%, and an unssen exam worth 50%. The coursework essay, (2,220-2,500 words) asks you to explore a contemporary moral conflict of your choice, and to evaluate the competing claims being made in a geographically grounded manner. The exam asks you to write one essay from a choice of six, and two shorter answer questions based on key ideas from the course.

Feedback methods

Feedback will be provided in the following ways during this course unit:

  • Extensive verbal feedback through Q&A, discussion and interactive activities within lectures and seminars
  • Verbal feedback on any course unit issue through consultation hours
  • Peer feedback through seminar participation

§  Detailed written feedback on the coursework assignments.

Recommended reading

The reading for this course will be broad and diverse, both within and outside of Geography. A sample of the kinds of texts that will be engaged with can be found below:


Bregman, R. (2017) Utopia for Realists: And How We Get There. London: Bloomsbury.


Chakrabarti, S. (2014) On Liberty. London: Penguin.


Clark, N., Massey, D. and Sarre, P. (2008) Material Geographies: A World in the Making. London: Sage.


Cloke, P. and Johnston, R. (2004) Spaces of Geographical Thought: Deconstructing Human Geography’s Binaries. London: Sage.


D’Alisa, G., Demaria, F. and Kallis, G. (2015) Degrowth: A Vocabulary for a New Era. London: Routledge.


Deaton, A. (2013) The Great Escape: Health, wealth and the origins of inequality. London: Fourth Estate. New Jersey: Princeton University Press.


Dorling, D. (2014) Inequality and the 1%. London: Verso.


Klein, N. (2014) This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate. New York: Simon and Schuster.


Kolbert, E. (2014) The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History. London: Bloomsbury.


O’Tuathail, G.O., and Dalby, S. (2002) Rethinking Geopolitics. London: Routledge.


Sandel, M. (2009) Justice: What’s the Right Thing to Do? London: Penguin.


Sandel, M. (2012) What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets. London: Penguin.


Scruton, R. (2014) How to be a Conservative. London: Bloomsbury.


Smith, D.M. (2000) Moral Geographies: ethics in a world of difference. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.


Wapshott, N. (2011) Keynes Hayek: The Clash That Defined Modern Economics. New York: Norton.


Wilkinson, R. and Pickett, K. (2009) The Spirit Level: Why Equality is Better for Everyone. London: Penguin.



If you have any questions about this new course for 2016-17, please contact

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Lectures 20
Seminars 10
Independent study hours
Independent study 170

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Ross Jones Unit coordinator

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