Dr Pauline Couper

Subject Director: Geography

Geography, School of Humanities, Religion & Philosophy

E: p.couper@yorksj.ac.uk

T: 87 6805

A picture of Pauline Couper

As a Geographer I exemplify the broad and eclectic nature of the discipline. My publications span geomorphology, philosophy of geography, human/nature relations, outdoor adventure and geography, and research and teaching in HE. I thus resist the labels ‘human geographer’ or ‘physical geographer’, preferring to identify myself as a geographer.

My 2015 book, ‘A Student’s Introduction to Geographical Thought: Theories, Philosophies & Methodologies’ (SAGE) reflects that breadth of interests. The book focuses on making connections between abstract philosophical and theoretical ideas, and the practices of doing geographical research – ultimately trying to make these connections more accessible for undergraduate and postgraduate students. Writing it was a significant challenge, but I maintain that I am a better geographer for it.

I studied at Worcester for my first degree and remained there for my PhD in geomorphology (awarded by Coventry University), which I completed whilst also working in Earth heritage conservation. I then spent 12 years at what is now Plymouth Marjon University, teaching across geography and outdoor adventure education programmes. In September 2014 I joined York St John University to lead the new provision in Geography, overseeing an exciting period of growth. I am lucky to work with a fantastic team of colleagues here.

I have a Postgraduate Certificate in Learning & Development in HE from the University of Exeter. I am a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society and a Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy.

You can follow me on Twitter at @DrPaulineCouper

Further Information


Through my teaching I aim to get students thinking for themselves, and doing geography for themselves. I have taught on modules across the undergraduate programmes, but at present most of my teaching is on two: Geographical Thought; and Research Project (which involves the residential field trip to Malta). I also supervise undergraduate dissertation. I appear occasionally in other modules (including Nature/Culture), and also contribute some sessions to the PGCE Secondary Geography and the Foundation Year.


My meandering research career is defined by two persistent and overlapping interests:

  • Knowledges of nature, from the scientific to the experiential. My doctoral research was in geomorphology and so very much focused on scientific knowledge of nature. However, we all encounter and understand ‘nature’ (itself a cultural construct) in multiple and complex ways. My more recent research has explored embodied encounters with nature on land and sea, the latter working with Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenology. I recently supervised Jen Hall’s PhD research: a study of affect, sensoria and emotion in women’s mountaineering.
  • Philosophy of geography. I have always been drawn to the big abstract ideas and assumptions that we make as geographers; from ideas about how landscape change works (in geomorphology) to assumptions about what exists and what constitutes knowledge (across geography). I am also interested in Geography as a discipline; a collective enterprise to know the world, shaped by many influences. I have two projects currently underway. ‘Conserving the Living Archive: Geographies of Landscape, Nature & Environmental Change in the Humberhead Peatlands’ is a joint project with Dr Ben Garlick, working with the cooperation of Natural England’s Humberhead Peatlands National Nature Reserve. This project aims to trace the human/nature relations of the peatland landscape, past and present, in order to contribute a different perspective to conservation efforts there. In 2019 we are also taking students to the nature reserve to think through the cultural geographies of nature. My second project, ‘Being and Becoming a Geomorphologist: Producing Geomorphological Knowledge Through Fieldwork’, is investigating the cognitive, embodied and socio-cultural dimensions of field research in geomorphology.



Couper, P (2015) A Student’s Introduction to Geographical Thought: Theory, Philosophy, Methodology. London: SAGE.

Book chapters

Couper, PR (in press) Epistemology. In Kobayashi, A (ed), International Encyclopedia of Human Geography. Amsterdam: Springer.

Peer-reviewed journals

Couper, PR (2017) The embodied spatialities of being in nature: encountering the nature/culture binary in green/blue space. cultural geographies.  (currently available in Early View) 

Couper, PR (2017) Visibility and invisibility in, of, and through textbook publication. Area. 50 (1): 43-45.

Couper, PR & Porter, S (2016) ‘Environmental awareness’ and rock climbing: changing pedagogies to enhance pro-environmental graduate attributes. Journal of Geography in Higher Education 40 (2): 207-221.

Couper, PR & Yarwood, R (2012) Confluences of human and physical geography research on the outdoors: an introduction to the special section on ‘Exploring the Outdoors’.  Area 44 (1):2-6.

Couper, PR & Ansell, L (2012) Researching the outdoors: exploring the unsettled frontier between science and adventure. Area 44 (1):14-21.

Couper, PR & Stoakes, G (2011) Introducing SandRA: visual representation of the research/teaching nexus as a tool in the dissemination of a new research strategy. Higher Education Quarterly 65 (1): 94-105.

Couper, PR; Dawson, C; Lea, S & Spencer, L (2009) ‘Learning to sing together’: developing a community of research practice through dialogue. Critical & Reflective Practice in Education.1 (1)  

Couper, PR (2007) Fluvial geomorphology and semiotics: a Wittgensteinian perspective of the ‘divide’ between human and physical geography. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 32 (3): 279-294.

Couper, PR (2004) Time and space in river bank erosion research: a review. Area 36 (4): 387-403.

Couper, PR (2003) Effects of silt-clay content on the susceptibility of river banks to subaerial erosion. Geomorphology 56 (1-2): 95-108.

Couper, PR; Stott, TA and Maddock, IP (2002) Insights into river bank erosion processes derived from analysis of negative erosion pin recordings: observations from three recent UK studies.  Earth Surface Processes and Landforms 27 (1): 59-79.

Couper, PR and Maddock, IP (2001) Subaerial river bank erosion processes and their interaction with other bank erosion mechanisms on the River Arrow, Warwickshire, UK.  Earth Surface Processes and Landforms 26 (6): 631-646.



2018 (with Ben Garlick) Gardening with the remains of “a living archive”: The Humberhead Peatlands as Anthroposcenic, Royal Geographical Society (with IBG) Annual International Conference, Cardiff (Sept 2018).

2018 Being in Nature: challenging the myth of human mastery through space. Nature Connections, University of Derby (June 2018).

2017   ‘Geography is what Geographers do’: a Wittgensteinian reprieve. Royal Geographical Society (with IBG) Annual International Conference, London (Aug 2017).

2016   Panel discussant in session titled The publication and utilization of geography textbooks, convened by Tim Hall & James Sidaway, Royal Geographical Society (with IBG) Annual International Conference, London.

2015   Nature & Culture: The problem of Geography’s human/physical ‘divide’. 64th Lovatt Lecture, University of Worcester.

2013   (with Su Porter) Self-awareness, environmental awareness and rock climbing: using auto-ethnography to enhance graduate attributes in an Outdoor Adventure Education degree.Royal Geographical Society (with IBG) Annual International Conference, London.

2013   (with Julie Evans) The part-time doctoral experience. Meeting the Needs of Part-Time Postgraduate Students, UK Council for Graduate Education, London (08/02/13).

2013   The ‘research/teaching nexus’. ‘Securing external funding for research’ – Arts & Humanities.  CREST Research Skills Seminar, Plymouth College of Art (02/07/13).

2012   (with Julie Evans) The experiences of CREST’s part-time research students. Presentation to CREST Research Leads, CREST/GuildHE, London.

2012   (with Tim Hall) convening session titled ‘When is a geographer not a geographer? The security of Geographers’ identities through change’ (sponsored by the History & Philosophy of Geography Research Group and the Higher Education Research Group).  Royal Geographical Society (with IBG) Annual International Conference, Edinburgh.

2011   Academic language-games and the problem of the ‘research/teaching nexus’.  CREST Education Seminar, GuildHE, London (seminar convenor).

2009   (with Richard Yarwood) Current research and researching currents:  perspectives on the Great Outdoors from human and physical geography.  Royal Geographical Society (with IBG) Annual International Conference, session on “The Great Outdoors?” convened by Couper and Yarwood (supported by the Rural Geography Research Group).

2008   (with Gaynor Pollard, Sue Lea, Colin Dawson & Lisa Spencer) Learning to Sing Together: Developing Researcher Identities. Marjon Learning, Teaching & Research Conference.

2007   The River System as a Semiotic Scalar Hierarchy. International Conference on Complex Systems, Boston (MA).

(with Geoff Stoakes) Research and Scholarly Activity: Implications for a Teaching-Led Institution. Marjon Learning, Teaching & Research Conference.

2006   (with Geoff Stoakes) Introducing SandRA – implications for practice.  3HEIs Change Champions Event: Encouraging a scholarly, strategically aligned approach to teaching.  North East Wales Institute, Wrexham.

With a little help from SandRA: integrating institutional, (individual) lecturer, and student perspectives on research and teaching in Geography.  Royal Geographical Society Annual International Conference.

What’s the meaning of this?  The language-games of human geography and physical geography.  Royal Geographical Society Annual International Conference.

2005  Measuring the ‘where and when’ of river bank erosion.  Royal Geographical Society Annual International Conference.

2001   Poster presentation: Subaerial river bank erosion – an underestimated erosive force. British Geomorphological Research Group Annual Conference.

2000   River bank erosion and soil particle size. British Geomorphological Research Group Postgraduate Symposium

1998   Poster presentation: The RIGS questionnaire.  First UK RIGS conference.

1998   Investigating the influence of soil particle size on river bank erosion. British Hydrological Society Postgraduate Symposium

Conference Proceedings

Couper, PR (1998) The RIGS Questionnaire.  In Oliver, P.G. (ed), Proceedings of the First UK RIGS Conference.  Herefordshire and Worcestershire RIGS Group, Worcester.  pp 209-216.

Professional Activities & Memberships

I am an active member of the geographical academic community. I was External Examiner for Geography at the University of Winchester 2015-19. I regularly present at conferences, and until recently I was a committee member of the Royal Geographical Society’s History & Philosophy of Geography Research Group (HPGRG). I am also a member of the Geography & Education Research Group (GeogEd).

Between 2008 and 2019 I was on the HPGRG Undergraduate Dissertation Prize panel (and coordinated the prize panel 2015-19). This entailed reading some extraordinarily good dissertations each summer. I am a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy, and member of the Society of Authors.


Postgraduate Certificate in Learning & Development (Exon), 2004
PhD: River bank erosion & the influence of soil particle size (Coventry), 2001
BA (Hons) Geographical Studies (Coventry) – first class, 1995

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