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Population Health

Victoria Lawson

Vicky-LawsonVictoria Lawson
Professor of geography; Director of University Honors
Visit Dr. Lawson’s faculty page to learn more about her professional background.

What is the area of focus for your work/research?
I direct the UW Honors Program and am deeply involved in undergraduate interdisciplinary education. Also I have been a Professor of Geography at UW for 30 years. I also co-Direct the Relational Poverty Network. I am currently writing an edited book on Relational Poverty Politics and I am involved in empirical work on the attitudes, actions and political actions by middle class people in relation to poverty and homelessness. I work on these themes in collaboration with colleagues in Argentina and the US. My PhD students also work on questions of impoverishment, inequality, poverty politics in India, Argentina, Brazil, the U.S. and Mexico.

My work draws on relational poverty studies and feminist care ethics to collaborate in building alternative understandings of impoverishment and social alliances to address inequality. My collaborations are with poverty scholars from across the Americas, India and South Africa. My recent research projects focus on race, place and ideas/discourses of rural poverty in the Pacific Northwest and on the forms and potentials of middle class poverty politics across the Americas, including explorations of the possibilities for new poverty politics and alliances.

How do you see your own work/research contributing to better population health outcomes?
My current work involves building a global research network and empirical, qualitative fieldwork work in both rural and urban spaces in Washington and also across the Americas. Better population health outcomes will only be achieved by analyses that do not silo and separate social context from specific, targeted interventions in disease. Poverty is a primary contributing factor to ill-health and so without considering the multiple processes that produce impoverishment, we will not adequately combat health inequities. My work draws attention to the intersecting processes of race, class, gender, sexuality and more, that shape the marginalization of certain people and places.

My work also explores the relationships between middle class people and those who are impoverished, to understand how poverty is framed, (mis)understood and acted upon. I am very interested in where, when and how middle class people engage with inequities of poverty (and health) and what motivates them to engage and act for change. We don’t understand enough about how middle class people come to be mobilized and involved in supporting policies and actions that reduce inequities. In democratic settings, these are vital questions that lead to support for redistributive policies that address the root causes of health inequity.

In addition, my work takes seriously the ways in which places are interconnected through economic, cultural, transactional and political processes. We cannot adequately address global health challenges without understanding the ways in which intersecting processes connect, people, places, cultures and economies together.

What do you hope can be accomplished through this initiative?
I remain committed to ideas I contributed to developing early in this process. I have been very interested in the education and capacity-building aspects of this work. I view research, innovation and teaching as core elements of our education mission and as central to transforming/addressing population/health challenges going forwards. Population health problems are complex, resulting from intersecting physical, social, cultural and economic processes. The UW will realize its unique potential by developing integrated and collaborative educational innovations to reflect this complexity. By tapping into the breadth of resources across campus, we will deepen the community of engaged students and faculty to expand innovative conceptualizations of population health education and action.