David O'Sullivan

Prof David O'Sullivan profile picture

Professor School of Geography, Environment and Earth Sciences

Research Interests

My research and teaching interests are eclectic. I am an urban geographer, with an interest in novel geographic methods. Common threads are fundamental concepts in spatial analysis, modeling and visualization, and the implications of geospatial technologies, computation, and especially, the complexity sciences, for how we can and should represent the world. I explore relationships between spatial structures and processes using the simulation models of complexity science.

Dynamic spatial models focus attention on the neighborhood as a fundamental spatial concept. More concretely, this interest owes a great deal to growing up in the 1970s and 80s in Belfast (Ireland), a place where local urban geographies mattered a great deal. I have worked on measuring and modeling neighborhood characteristics in urban settings, particularly patterns of ethnic settlement. I am fascinated by urban change, particularly the spatial dynamics of rent, and how capital flows in contest with local communities, produce and remake urban landscapes over time.

Sitting at the boundary between quantitative and qualitative methods, I am intrigued by how narratives can be constructed using simulation models and have argued for narrative approaches to the analysis of models. This is shaky ground from a philosophy of science perspective.

Statistical methods are how we traditionally cope with the biases of narrative explanations, but a lesson from complexity science is that a pervasive feature of geographical systems is how they scale up from local events to wider effects, strengthening the persuasiveness of narrative explanations. Finding ways to balance narrative explanation with statistical methods is an area for further research.

Looking ahead, a key challenge is to understand how near-ubiquitous geospatial technologies (cellphones, the Internet, web-mapping, GPS) actively shape the sociospatial (urban) world. Spatial search, geo-tagging, and location-based services creating new perceptions of urban places. Notions such as ‘hotspots’, whether of crime, ill-health, or poverty (but rarely, if ever, of wealth), have broad effects on policy, as ‘targeting’ turns communities into ‘segments’, neighborhoods into ‘lifestyles’, and people into ‘profiles’. Studying these phenomena requires theoretical insight and technical expertise, and I am enthusiastic about developing both, in collaboration with colleagues and students, at all levels.

David O'Sullivan CV 2018

David O'Sullivan Website


  • PhD in Architecture and Planning - University College London (2000)
  • MSc in Cartography and Geoinformation Technology - University of Glasgow (1997)
  • BA/MA in Engineering - University of Cambridge (1988)