In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Quantitative Methods in Human Geography

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Reference Resources
  • Elementary Textbooks
  • Advanced Spatial Statistics Textbooks
  • Spatial Analysis Software Packages
  • Software Overviews
  • Specialized Software Packages
  • Communities
  • Journals
  • Spatial Autocorrelation
  • Ecological Inference Problem
  • Modifiable Areal Unit Problem
  • Spatial Regression Models
  • Local Methods
  • Categorical Data Analysis
  • Longitudinal Methods
  • Microsimulations and Agent-Based Models
  • Bayesian Methods and Spatial Analysis
  • Critical Quantitative Geographies
  • Future Directions for Quantitative Methods and Spatial Analysis

Geography Quantitative Methods in Human Geography
Suzanne Davies Withers
  • LAST REVIEWED: 19 December 2016
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 February 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199874002-0053


The term “quantitative research” refers to the systematic scientific investigation of quantitative properties and phenomena and their relationships, by using statistical methods. It includes the analysis of numerical spatial data, the development of spatial theory, and the constructing and testing of mathematical models of spatial processes. As geographers know, spatial analysis is very important. The aim of spatial analysis is to understand differences across space rather than regularities. Quantitative methods have been an integral part of human geography since the quantitative revolution of the 1950s. Quantitative methods in the early 21st century are vastly more sophisticated than their earlier counterparts. Since the early 1990s, in particular, the interest in georeferenced data and the need to understand it have led to an enormous field of spatial analysis. By the late 1990s, the field of spatial analysis had matured to the point where the methods of spatial analysis served as fundamental research techniques in a variety of disciplines, including geography, ecology, environmental studies, epidemiology, regional science, sociology, and urban planning. The quantitative methods of yesteryear have given way to a complex field of spatial analysis that serves as a unifying methodology for social science in general.

General Overviews

The breadth of quantitative methods and spatial analysis is vast. Consequently, very few articles are available that provide an overview of the field in general. Murray 2010 provides a traditional account of quantitative methods in geography, in a paper prepared for the 50th anniversary of the Journal of Regional Science. Kwan 2010 presents an overview of methods papers published in the last one hundred years in the Annals of the Association of American Geographers, but quantitative methods is a subfield of the larger history that Kwan describes. Goodchild, et al. 2000 makes a strong case for spatial analysis integrating the social sciences. This article is based on a National Science Foundation (NSF) infrastructure grant proposal. The funding of this grant led to the Center for Spatially Integrated Social Sciences (CSISS), the collaboration of many spatial scholars, and the dissemination of spatial statistical methods and materials. Goodchild, et al. 2000 provides a sense of the progress made in the field of spatial analysis. Goodchild and Janelle 2004 provides very informative chapters on a range of substantive fields in the social sciences for which spatial science has become integral. The volume conveys the breadth of spatial analysis throughout the social sciences. A number of handbooks provide an exceptional overview of the breadth of the field, each chapter addressing an important avenue of research. For the intermediate to advanced level, Fischer and Getis 2010 offers a broad collection of papers on spatial analysis by leading scholars in the field. At a more accessible level, Fotheringham and Rogerson 2009 is a superb collection in this wonderfully systematic volume that includes chapters on spatial data, the geographic information system (GIS), geovisualization, spatial data mining, spatial autocorrelation, the modifiable areal unit problem (MAUP), spatial weights, spatial interpolation, spatial sampling, statistical inference, fuzzy sets, geographically weighted regression, spatial regression, spatial microsimulation, spatial pattern dynamics, geocomputation, spatial interaction tools, challenges, and the future status of spatial analysis.

  • Fischer, Manfred M., and Arthur Getis, eds. Handbook of Applied Spatial Analysis: Software Tools, Methods, and Applications. Berlin: Springer, 2010.

    DOI: 10.1007/978-3-642-03647-7

    Wonderful collection of accomplished contributing authors. Reads like a “who’s who” of spatial analysis. Handbook includes ten chapters on spatial analysis software, six on spatial statistical methods, seven on spatial econometrics, three on analysis of remotely sensed data, and nine on applications in numerous fields. Provides an excellent breadth of the field of spatial analysis for intermediate to advanced levels.

  • Fotheringham, A. Stewart, and Peter A. Rogerson, eds. The SAGE Handbook of Spatial Analysis. London: SAGE, 2009.

    This superior, comprehensive handbook provides a retrospective and prospective account of spatial analysis. If only one reference source is used, this is the one to choose. Superb, extensive bibliographies accompany chapters by leading scholars in the field. Provides important breadth and depth of spatial analysis in geographic research and more.

  • Goodchild, Michael F., Luc Anselin, Richard P. Appelbaum, and Barbara H. Harthorn. “Toward Spatially Integrated Social Science.” International Regional Science Review 23.2 (2000): 139–159.

    Spatially integrated social science could be called the perspective that launched a thousand ships. This article details the significance of space and place in the social sciences, including business and networks, community studies, criminal justice, environmental change, health and disease, social and economic inequality, and urban studies. A call to integrate and disseminate spatial knowledge. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

  • Goodchild, Michael F., and Donald G. Janelle, eds. Spatially Integrated Social Science. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004.

    Twenty-one chapters representing applications of spatial analysis at four scales: individual and household levels, neighborhood-level analysis, regional-level analysis, and multiscale spatial perspectives. Material is a little dated, but chapters provide excellent overviews of the potential of spatial methodologies in specific topic areas, ranging from residential mobility to crime, business, and economic policy.

  • Kwan, Mei-Po. “A Century of Method-Oriented Scholarship in the Annals.” Annals of the Association of American Geographers 100.5 (2010): 1060–1075.

    DOI: 10.1080/00045608.2010.523341

    A light read. Commissioned for the 100th anniversary of the Annals, this article provides a thorough historical account of the contribution and variation in quantitative methods over time. Important developmental perspective for quantitative methods and spatial analysis within the discipline. Of note, tables 2 and 3 list most frequently cited methods papers. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

  • Murray, Alan T. “Quantitative Geography.” Journal of Regional Science 50.1 (2010): 143–163.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-9787.2009.00642.x

    Very traditional conception of quantitative methods. Reviews descriptive statistical measures (mean, variance, higher-ordered moments, and correlation), classic statistical models (regression, analysis of variance, principal components, factor analysis, and multidimensional scaling), nonparametric approaches, and spatial statistical subareas: point pattern analysis, spatial autocorrelation, spatial statistical models, and exploratory spatial data analysis—techniques unique in quantitative geography. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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