UW News

April 23, 2009

Place, Health and Equity Conference set for May 7-8

How does the social and physical context of place affect human well-being?

A broadly interdisciplinary group of scholars will explore this topic at the Place, Health and Equity Conference at the UW Thursday, May 7, and Friday, May 8.

Leading researchers from a wide range of disciplines will discuss new directions in research on the intersections of place, racial and social inequity, and human well-being.

“Where we live is very consequential for the quality of our everyday lives and the state of our overall health,” said Susan Kemp, the Charles O. Cressey Associate Professor of Social Work, UW, and co-director of the conference.

“We know that place as a social and physical context is deeply implicated in differences in social and health outcomes ranging from access to jobs, decent housing and good schools to obesity, diabetes and heart disease. It is also clear that the burdens of place-based inequities fall most heavily on racial and ethnic minorities and the poor.”

Yet unraveling the mechanisms by which place “gets under people’s skins” to affect health is a complicated task. In what ways do spatial factors, at multiple levels, interact to produce better or worse human outcomes? How can research on place and health better engage the depth and diversity of people’s place experiences in rapidly changing rural and urban environments?

To move the study of place forward, the conference aims to focus lively interdisciplinary attention on exploring new conceptual and methodological directions for engaging questions such as these. To stimulate these conversations, five leading scholars will make public presentations.

On Thursday morning, sociologist Linda Burton, internationally recognized for her ethnographic work on rural and family life, and Stephen Matthews, a leader in the development of innovative applications of geographic information systems (GIS) technologies, will describe how they mix ethnographic and spatial mapping methods to explore the experiences of low-income and minority communities. Social work scholar Karina Walters, also internationally recognized for her work on indigenous health, will discuss the role of historical experiences of place-based oppression and trauma in the contemporary health and well-being of Indian American communities.

On Friday morning, Carol Stack, the influential urban anthropologist and author of All our Kin will reflect on what she has learned from her career-long engagement with African-American communities, families and individuals who were “reluctant participants in the Great Migration from rural to urban places, Return Migration back to the rural home-places, and Urban Renewal or the threat of displacement.” And geographer Michael Goodchild, internationally esteemed for his work on geospatial methods, will contemplate the challenges inherent in translating the complexity of human place understandings into the formal methods of geographic information systems.

In smaller working sessions, invited scholars will develop a set of recommendations for future studies and lay the groundwork for an edited book.

The public presentations, 8:30 a.m. to noon, will be open to the general public. Afternoon sessions, 1:30 to 5 p.m., will be limited to invited scholars.

Thursday, May 7 (HUB, Room 310)

Conceptual and Methodological Foundations of Place by Linda M. Burton, the James B. Duke Professor of Sociology, Duke University and Stephen Matthews, associate professor of sociology and anthropology, Penn State University.

Place, Historical Trauma, and Health by Karina Walters, the William P. and Ruth Gerberding Endowed Professor of Social Work, UW.

Friday, May 8 (HUB, Room 106B)

Attachment and Dislocation: African American Journeys in the U.S. by Carol B. Stack, professor emeritus, Graduate School of Education, University of California, Berkeley.

Formalizing Place in Geographic Information Systems (GIS) by Michael Goodchild, professor of geography and director of spatial@ucsb, University of California, Santa Barbara.

The Place, Health and Equity Conference is partially funded by the National Cancer Institute and National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Other conference co-chairs are Linda Burton, Stephen Matthews, and David Takeuchi, UW professor of sociology and social work. A book based on the conference and edited by Burton, Kemp, Matthews and Takeuchi, is scheduled for publication in the fall of 2010.

For more information, please contact Susan Kemp at spk@u.washington.edu  or 206-543-8352. There is no registration fee, but participants are asked to register at http://courses.washington.edu/phequity/placeconference.shtml.