In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Geographic Methods: Visual Analysis

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Reference Works from Other Disciplines
  • Textbooks and Student Handbooks
  • Journals
  • Vision and Visuality
  • Visual Objects and Practices
  • Media Analysis
  • “Everyday” Visual Culture and Milieus
  • Film Analysis
  • Artworks, Visual Dominance, and Embodied Viewing

Geography Geographic Methods: Visual Analysis
Liz Roberts
  • LAST REVIEWED: 03 May 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 September 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199874002-0173


Visual analysis spans a wide remit in human geography and is deeply tied up with visual theory and a number of “turns”: cultural, nonrepresentational/performative, participatory. This article brings together texts that have a focus on analyzing visual representations, visual technologies, and the acts of viewing and of producing visual media, highlighting the differences between methodologies used and the theoretical work they are informed by or most linked with. It is not possible to group contributions by modes of analyses, since geographers often engage with multiple methods simultaneously. The sections have been created around types of visual media instead. Discussion of these media types is preceded by a discussion of Vision and Visuality, which informs much of this work. What is evident across the sections is a move toward audience studies and participatory approaches that deprivileges the geographer as site of interpretation or creator of “authoritative” visual representations, in the context of efforts to democratize knowledge and power in academia. Visual media are thought of less in terms of their masking of power relations as to their coconstitutive role as affective agents. The efforts to bring material, performative, and embodied analyses into geographical studies of visual culture mean that approaches combining language and the visual are less evident, except in work examining advertising, or where language is studied for discourse as part of audience or reception approaches (online ethnographies, photo-elicitation). An important turning point for visual analysis is the introduction of online methods for viewing and reaching audiences, as well as opportunity to study the mobility of the visual image and how its meanings change across contexts and media. Work focusing on landscape is so pervasive in forming the shape of visual work in the discipline that it is spread across sections rather than appearing as a section on its own. Work under the label of visual culture is split into three sections on Visual Objects and Practices, Media Analysis, and “Everyday” Visual Culture and Milieus. The last section, Analysis of Participatory Visual Methods, looks toward early-21st-century research that is working with visual media and creating visual representations in a participatory way, to consider if and how visual analysis forms part of this work.

General Overviews

This section includes a mix of older and newer overviews, focused both on theory and method, as well as subdisciplinary overviews. Rose 2016 gives a thorough, theoretically informed guide to the full gamut of visual methods. Pink 2013 provides a similar guide for visual ethnomethodologies. Harley 1989 represents an exemplar in early visual analyses of maps, whereas Daniels 1989 does the same for landscape. Wylie 2007 provides a more up-to-date account of theories and analyses of landscape. Two texts are focused on film analysis: Aitken and Zonn 1994 brings together a collection of essays on representations of place in film, while Cresswell and Dixon 2002 gives an overview of geographers’ broadened engagement with film through a mobilities paradigm to look at its performative registers and practices of filmmaking. The final three texts offer subdisciplinary perspectives. Schwartz and Ryan 2003 gives an account of historical geographers’ engagement with a specific focus on photography in the context of historical visual cultures, Urry and Larsen 2011 provides an account originating from tourism studies, and Adams, et al. 2014 is an addition from the field of media geographies.

  • Adams, Paul C., Jim Craine, and Jason Dittmer, eds. The Ashgate Research Companion to Media Geography. Ashgate Research Companion. Farnham, UK: Ashgate, 2014.

    This is the most recent and comprehensive textbook on media geographies. It has sections on different types of media, such as film and comic books, and on places, media, and bodies, and a final section about spaces that are mediated or created through media. Not all chapters are about visual media, and it is largely theoretical rather than focused on methods or analysis.

  • Aitken, Stuart C., and Leo E. Zonn, eds. Place, Power, Situation, and Spectacle: A Geography of Film. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 1994.

    A collection of essays on different aspects of representing place, from British urban planning in cinema, to documentaries about Route 66, to cities such as Berlin. Three useful introductory chapters in Part 1 outline late-20th-century theory and posit postmodern and cinema studies as an intervention into traditional geographic conceptions of space.

  • Cosgrove, Denis E. Geography and Vision: Seeing, Imaging and Representing the World. London: I. B. Tauris, 2008.

    An influential book in the discipline, exploring different aspects of vision and imaging in the construction of place. Forwards a conceptualization of geographical representations, including maps, texts, and pictorial images, as actively shaping social and spatial practices. Explores interlinkages among vision, knowledge, and geography, taking a predominantly historical “reading” approach. Sections cover extraterrestrial geography, European and American landscapes, and cartography.

  • Cresswell, Tim, and Deborah Dixon, eds. Engaging Film: Geographies of Mobility and Identity. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2002.

    Identifies that geographers are increasingly drawing on film to illustrate and unpack ideas in the classroom, making it critical to explore the relationship between the real and the reel. One of the earliest attempts in geography at bringing in the embodied and fleeting aspects of viewing and representations, via the framework of mobility. The book is structured into three sections on engaging mobility, identity, and pedagogy.

  • Daniels, Stephen. “Marxism, Culture, and the Duplicity of Landscape.” In New Models in Geography: The Political-Economy Perspective. Vol. 2. Edited by Richard Peet and Nigel Thrift, 196–220. London: Unwin Hyman, 1989.

    An important essay that explores Marxist cultural geographies’ understanding of landscape, predominantly via the work of cultural theorists Raymond Williams and John Berger. Its central argument is that there is a tension or duplicity in landscape analyses where culture is relegated to representation only, and elite landscape representations seek to hide the power relations and social, material conditions that produce them, versus landscape as vernacular lived reality.

  • Harley, J. B. “Deconstructing the Map.” Cartographica 26.2 (1989): 1–20.

    DOI: 10.3138/E635-7827-1757-9T53

    A postmodern analysis of maps, illustrating how visual representations produce power as well as reflect it. It draws on semiotics and discourse theory—as an interpretation of image as text—to show how meaning can be created through opposition. It deconstructs the “scientific” language in modern maps compared with artistic, symbolic historical maps. It discusses the agency and affectivity of images through looking at the “authority” effects of the map.

  • Lutz, Catherine A., and Jane L. Collins. Reading National Geographic. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993.

    A whole book dedicated to analysis of the production and reception of National Geographic magazine, with particular focus on how the “non-Western” is framed through its photographs. Chapters combine analyses of what the photographs signify, interviews, and audience reception with content analysis—evidenced in graphs and bar charts throughout—to powerful effect to illustrate implicit ideologies, such as within depictions of race and gender.

  • Pink, Sarah. Doing Visual Ethnography. 3d ed. London: SAGE, 2013.

    This book spans the social sciences and humanities to suggest a shift in the way visual methods are conducted, especially through new digital technologies and due to a number of theoretical “turns,” leading to a focus on practice, place, and sensory experience. Comprises three sections loosely grouped around theories, methods and analyses (photography, video, online), and representing or displaying visual research.

  • Rose, Gillian. Visual Methodologies: An Introduction to Researching with Visual Materials. 4th ed. London: SAGE, 2016.

    This is a comprehensive look across visual methods and theory, targeted to a social science audience. It forwards a critical visual methodology that incorporates analysis of three sites of the visual image: the site of production, the content of the image itself, and the site of consumption. The methodology encompasses both the technologies and material qualities of an image as well as social, economic, and political factors at play in the circulation of images through institutional contexts and practices.

  • Schwartz, Joan M., and James R. Ryan, eds. Picturing Place: Photography and the Geographical Imagination. London: I. B. Tauris, 2003.

    This edited collection makes clear the connections between the visual and cultural turns and historical geography. It explores how photography contributed to the creation of place and the different spaces of photography, such as the archive, the empire, and the home. Photographs are shown as part of the recording, ordering, and controlling of places as part of a colonial geographical imagination.

  • Urry, John, and Jonas Larsen. The Tourist Gaze 3.0. 3d ed. London: SAGE, 2011.

    An update of the original influential book on and beyond tourism studies, which articulated a particular type of viewing as the “tourist gaze.” This most recent edition has chapters on “Working under the Gaze” and “Vision and Photography,” which rethink the ideas in line with more recent geographical mobilities and performance paradigms.

  • Wylie, John. Landscape. Key Ideas in Geography. London: Routledge, 2007.

    Wylie gives an in-depth account of how the study of landscape has been informed by different art criticism, cultural theory, and developments in social and cultural geography, such as cultural Marxism, phenomenology, and nonrepresentational theory.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.