Research Areas / Foci

Critical Human Geography

Human-Environment Relationships

Methodology and Technology

Physical Geography

Regional Development

Water Resources, Politics, and Policy


Each major category below has a sample list of research topics and the associated faculty.  For more information about the specific research interests of SGD Faculty, click on the names to see web pages and contact information.




Research in critical human geography reflects the theoretical and political transformations in the field of geography that accompanied the social movements of the late 1960s. For the first decade or so in its development, critical human geography was primarily influenced by Marxism and feminism. These were later augmented by engagements with postmodernism and poststructuralism, postcolonial theory and subaltern studies, anti-racist theory, post-Marxism, psychoanalysis, cultural studies, and continental and American social theory. The impact of these theories—all of which share a commitment to social justice—has been felt in nearly every subfield of human geography. At SGD, the faculty work in economic, political, urban, and cultural geography, as well as in development, political ecology, and critical GIS. A sample of research areas and associated faculty include:



SGD's human-environment program pursues and innovates diverse approaches to tackle some of the world’s most pressing environmental questions. Our faculty, who work in both critical human and physical geography, conduct research in all corners of the globe with particular focus in the Southwest US, the US-Mexico border, and Latin America. Faculty interests include environmental governance and policy, political ecology, food and water security, climate and society, land use change and forests. Students can also take advantage of the outstanding UA interdisciplinary expertise across the university on the environment ( With top-flight graduate students, wide-ranging techniques, numerous research grants, and diverse theoretical approaches, SGD at the University Arizona is a leading source of expertise and graduate education in this field. A sample of research areas and associated faculty include:



Though technically a support field and an infrastructure rather than a substantive domain, methodology and technology are at the heart of every subfield in the School, and hence worthy of calling out for special attention. SGD supports a full range of methodological approaches, the choices of which are best made on the basis of research questions and objectives rather than pre-set ideas about the relevance of this or that technique. We support critical methodologies such as discourse analysis and participatory methods, traditional qualitative methods such as interviewing and ethnography, mixed quantitative and qualitative approaches relying on survey data, and traditional quantitative approaches, especially spatial statistics and GIS. In terms of technology, faculty support projects with specialized software and hardware dedicated to GIS and remote sensing. Increasingly the school is home to new approaches in web-based technology, decision support science, and geo-visualization. A sample of research areas and associated faculty include:



Contemporary physical geography draws on a long-standing earth science tradition as well as current approaches in the environmental sciences to produce knowledge about natural systems, especially as they relate to society. In recent decades, physical geography has come to organize itself in terms of systems and processes, both natural and human-caused, which are involved in environmental change at global, regional and local scales. Physical geographers embrace a variety of quantitative methods in their work, including dynamic modeling, statistical approaches, geographic information science, remote sensing tools and good old-fashioned field work. Increasingly, physical geography has come to play a pivotal role in many kinds of interdisciplinary environmental research projects that integrate natural and social science perspectives within and outside the discipline. Furthermore, while the traditional subfields of geomorphology, climatology and biogeography are still present, many leading scholars now work in a mix of these areas and in overlapping fields such as human-environment geography, environmental planning and policy. A sample of research areas and associated faculty include:



Modern regional development has its intellectual roots in efforts during the 1950s and 1960s to build a new approach to geography, one that is analytically rigorous and addresses theoretical abstraction and real world problems, as well as their interrelation. This research concentration shares substantial overlaps with the fields and practices of economic development, urban planning, and regional science. SGD scholars in regional development tend to concentrate in population geography, economic geography, and urban geography. Methodologically, regional development has often been aligned with the tools of spatial analysis, spatial statistics, mathematical modeling, optimization, simulation, and GIS, but as the subfield has become more diverse theoretically and substantively, so too has its range of techniques. SGD's regional development faculty work closely with those identifying with critical human geography and human-environmental geography, and vice-versa. A sample of research areas and associated faculty include:

  • Quantitative research (David Plane)
  • Spatial analysis, modeling, and optimization
  • Population dynamics (David Plane)
  • Economic development
  • Urban and metropolitan issues (David Plane)



 The availability of adequate water supplies and the management of increasingly scarce water resources are some of the most critical issues facing the world today, especially in arid and semi-arid regions. In the southwestern United States, the convergence of growth, changing water demands, drought, and climate change has thrust these issues to the forefront. In response, SGD is increasingly focusing on water-society linkages here in the Southwest and internationally, with particular emphasis on Latin America and South Asia. As geographers with interdisciplinary training, we are well positioned to take a lead role in better understanding these complex issues and contributing to the resolution of the associated challenges.  

The school’s team of core faculty has research interests and applied experience that include:

In addition, there are a variety of water-related programs and institutes throughout the University of Arizona that offer a broad range of collaborative opportunities. With an expanding and diverse cadre of exceptional graduate students, wide-ranging techniques, and diverse theoretical approaches, SGDis a leading source of expertise and graduate education in this field.


Graduate Certificate in Water Policy