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Course content

Despite the phenomenal technological progress of the 20th century, most people still live with the acute and chronic consequences of age-old hazards such as floods and earthquakes. This MSc is aimed at students interested in engaging with the natural and social dimensions of environmental hazards, including disasters and climate related risk. Students receive specialised scientific training in the physical hazards that pose large risks to communities living throughout the world, from climate change and meteorological risks to flooding, earthquakes and landslides. Students on this programme will receive theoretical and practical training for understanding and quantifying risks and hazards. They will learn about how hazards persist over long periods of time instead of merely as single events, but are composed of many smaller sub-events or how their effects are widespread. 

Course Structure 

Students take the following core modules, and a selection of elective modules, which, when combined, add up to 180 credits:

Core Modules:

  • Understanding Risk (30 credits)
  • Risk Frontiers (15 credits)
  • Risk, Science and Communication (15 credits)
  • Dissertation by Research (or) Vocational Dissertation (60 credits)

Elective Modules available in previous years include:

  • Hydrological Hazards (30 credits)
  • Spatial and Temporal Dimensions of Hazard (30 credits)
  • Social Dimensions of Risk and Resilience (30 credits)
  • International Relations and Security in the Middle East (15 credits)
  • Strategic Asia: Policy and Analysis (15 credits)
  • European Security (15 credits)
  • Social Policy and Society (30 credits) 

Course Learning and Teaching

Understanding and managing risk is ultimately about choice. All elements of society, from individuals to governments, must make decisions – conscious or not – about the ways in which they perceive, interpret, balance, and mitigate risk. Risk permeates our day-to-day lives in ways that are now recognised to be much more complex than the hazard-vulnerability paradigm, which dominated risk research until the 1990s, recognised. A deeper understanding of the nature of risk, its emergence, and its interface and position within societies, has emphasised the need to take a much more complex view in which a general understanding of the ways in which risk is generated, experienced and managed needs to be combined with a specific understanding of particular science or policy areas.

The primary aim of this Masters programme is to equip students with a general understanding of risk, whilst simultaneously providing specific training in elements of risk-related research. The MSc supports students in developing a strong social science perspective on risk. This will be achieved through an interdisciplinary framework for understanding risk from a variety of perspectives. Students will learn theoretical and practical approaches to identifying and framing risk, as well as the underlying physical and social mechanisms that generate it. They will also examine the relationship of risk to knowledge and policy, and will be made aware of the array of advanced tools and techniques to assess the physical and social dimensions of risk under conditions of uncertainty. They will also be trained in the substance and methods associated with a range of science and policy areas, and be expected to demonstrate that they can combine their general training in risk with their specific understanding of the substance and method associated with the chosen area, through either a research-based or a vocational dissertation.

All students will undertake a suite of core modules (120 credits) which provide students with a range of skills and knowledge which result in a unique focus in risk combined with training in interdisciplinary research methods. These modules are Understanding Risk, Risk, Science and Communication, Risk Frontiers and the Dissertation.

Students then also select a suite of elective modules (another 60 credits). Students can choose to receive specialised scientific training in:

  • the social dimensions of risk and resilience, and/or
  • a combination of approaches to risk.

Electives can be selected from: Hydrological Hazards, Spatial Temporal Dimensions of Hazards, Social Dimensions of Risk and Resilience. 

The Risk Masters (both in its MA and MSc forms) is taught jointly between Durham University’s Geography Department, the School of Government & International Affairs, and the School of Applied Social Sciences. The programme’s interdisciplinary approach encourages students to combine science and social science perspectives. Students have a broad range of modules to choose from, and in this way develop an individualized set of professional skills that, depending on the student’s preferences, speak more to either the natural sciences (e.g. via scientific modelling, GIS or science and communication) or the social sciences (e.g. via social science research methodologies and engagements with social policy and international relations). The programme is delivered in close collaboration with Durham University’s Institute of Hazard, Risk and Resilience (IHRR), and through IHRR’s activities students get permanent exposure to both practitioner and academic perspectives at the forefront of risk thinking and practice.

Visit the Geography (Risk) - MSc page on the Durham University website for more details!






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