Mapping and Spatial Analysis

[DCL – if possible, replace the image above with http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2009/03/10/us/20090310-immigration-explorer.html}

We know that the people of each region of our country have somewhat different I social patterns and cultural characteristics. But why is that? In the map above, you can see how immigrants have settled in different places around the country. These groups have influenced the local societies. Mapping and spatial analysis is one way in which we can graphically present data – like national origin above.

People live in places. We are not detached entities, floating in a void. Thus, it is important for the social scientist to recognize the interaction between human spaces and physical places. The social sciences, and human geography in particular, often look at the spatial organization of humans, the resources they use, their patterns of settlement and transportation, and the many ways in which interact with the physical environment.

Increasingly, the social sciences have begun to utilize computer based systems for mapping social information. These systems for analyzing geographically linked data are known as geographic information system (or GIS). GIS is not one method but a set of tools for geocoding data and easily visualizing it in a mapped form. Environmental Systems Research Institute, Inc. (Esri), one of the main vendors of spatial mapping software, explains that “GIS methods allows us to view, understand, question, interpret, and visualize data in many ways that reveal relationships, patterns, and trends in the form of maps, globes, reports, and charts.”

{DCL a better copy of the video is at: http://downloads2.esri.com/ESRI/videos/whatisgis.zip}

There are a variety of ways that researchers are using this technology. I have quiet often used it myself in research projects. For example, on one project I was working with service providers in Detroit to conduct a spatial survey of services for homeless adolescents. We were working to determine which neighborhoods were most heavily impacted by youth homelessness, what services were being provided for these homeless youth, and how far away these services were from the populations they served. We mapped the home addresses of youth staying in homeless shelters, analyzed the characteristics of the neighborhoods they had come from, then looked spatially at which services they had used the most. The analysis produced some interesting maps as well as findings that neighborhood characteristics played a role in homelessness: poverty, density of youth, community instability, youth violent crime, and lack of neighborhood organizations were all shown to be related to chronic conditions of homelessness for youth.

I would like for you to now read “Thinking Spatially in the Social Sciences” from the text book “Spatially Integrated Social Science” by Michael F. Goodchild and Donald G. Janell. Available here:  Spatially Integrated Social Science

Or, you can find the entire ebook through the UNCG library at: https://libproxy.uncg.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=nlebk&AN=120980&site=eds-live

Sources: Social Explorer, http://www.socialexplorer.com; Minnesota Population Center; U.S. Census Bureau

Matthew Bloch and Robert Gebeloff/The New York Times

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