Congratulations to Drs. Elwood and Lawson for their Recent NSF Research Coordination Network Grant!

The Department of Geography would like to extend a big congratulations to Dr. Sarah Elwood and Dr. Vicky Lawson for being awarded a five year (2013-2018), $500,000 Research Coordination Network Grant from the NSF! They have been awarded the grant to develop a collaborative network of researchers from around the world whose members will generate conceptual and methodological innovations in poverty research. The Relational Poverty Network (RPN) will extend mainstream poverty research with a relational conceptualization of poverty–an approach which holds great promise for innovative poverty policy, but also significant conceptual and methodological challenges for achievement.

Sarah and Vicky will develop the RPN through a series of annual workshops and ongoing activities, through which participants will produce new ways of operationalizing relational poverty concepts, create resources to support robust mixed-methods research and ‘many sites to many sites’ comparison, and catalyze dialogue across mainstream and relational poverty research scholars. Network members will also create and share publically available educational materials for teaching about relational poverty approaches in multiple disciplinary contexts.

The members in attendance at the first meeting of the RPN in Argentina.

The members in attendance at the first meeting of the RPN in Argentina.

Over the past few years Sarah and Vicky have built a core group of 60 social scientists at 30 institutions, including human geographers, sociologists, political scientists, historians, economists, anthropologists, and philosophers from the U.S., Argentina, South Africa, India, Canada, and Thailand. Going forward the RPN will expand from this core group. According to Sarah and Vicky: “This grant comes after a long sustained effort of proposal submission, revision, and re-submission to various funders–we are extremely grateful for the many ways that Geography faculty, staff, and graduate students have helped in this process.” Congrats to both!

To find out more about the two faculty members’ work, check out their websites! Find Sarah’s here and Vicky’s here.

Katz Distinguished Lecture: Vicky Lawson

Our own Professor Vicky Lawson will be giving a Solomon Katz Distinguished Lecture in the Humanities on November 7, 2012. The talk, titled ‘A Crisis of Care and a Crisis of Borders: Towards Caring Citizenship’, will be held in Kane Hall, Room 110 at 7pm. The event is free and open to the public, so please come and support Dr. Lawson! A description of the event can be found below:

We live amidst a crisis of care in the U.S. Demand for care is rapidly increasing (as baby boomers age, as medical technology extends lives and as older children remain unemployed in economic recession), while public support for care is falling dramatically. Care needs are increasingly met in the market place where care is simultaneously commodified and devalued. This crisis of care is often borne by low-income care providers, many of whom are ‘racial-ethnic’ women who may be immigrants and who are often assumed to be undocumented. Here the crisis of care meets a border crisis.

An internationally respected feminist geographer, Victoria Lawson considers the ethics and practices of care in the global era. Since 1996, immigrants’ rights have been curtailed and border enforcement has been intensified and rescaled. Efforts to control the movement and work of undocumented migrants and asylum seekers have unleashed new spatial strategies of border enforcement that have shifted where the border is, and for whom the border comes into being. In some states, borders are being enforced in communities, workplaces, hospitals and schools. These border practices intensify the vulnerability of low-wage care providers regardless of their citizenship status, and contribute to the devaluation of care. Care ethics invites a collective conversation about how we frame social citizenship, how we care and who cares for whom.

Lawson is Professor of Geography at the University of Washington as well as co-founder of the Relational Poverty Network and Middle Class Poverty Politics project. A past-president of the Association of American Geographers, she is also the author of Making Development Geography (2007) and serves as editor for the journal Progress in Human Geography.

For additional information:

Treasure trove of restricted social science data now available to Pacific Northwest researchers


Get 2011 Data for the United States

By Molly McElroy

UW News and Information

Mark Ellis, a geography professor at the University of Washington, uses non-public data collected by the government to study immigration and unemployment patterns. But since the data are confidential and access to them is restricted, Ellis can’t just have the records sent to him or access them from his UW computer.

Instead, he has had to travel to a Research Data Center maintained by the U.S. Census Bureau and use its secure Internet connection to obtain data kept on census servers in Bowie, Md. At one point in his career, Ellis traveled every other week to UCLA – one of the closest census centers to UW.

He had a young child and other responsibilities and those trips to California became “enormously stressful.”

Ellis led the effort to create a census research center in Washington state. With funding from UW, the state and the National Science Foundation, the Northwest Census Research Data Center officially opened Sept. 24 with Ellis as its director.

“The UW is poised to be a world leader in developing tools for integrating, analyzing and understanding data sets that are high-dimensional, dynamic and large in scale,” UW Provost Ana Mari Cauce said at the center’s grand opening. The local center will help UW reach this goal by providing “a vital resource for our students and faculty in the social, behavioral and health sciences, allowing them to do cutting edge research on campus that was previously impossible without costly travel elsewhere,” she said.

The new center at UW is one of 15 such census outposts across the U.S. It provides qualified researchers access to restricted data from demographic, economic, public health and household surveys collected by the Census Bureau and other federal agencies, including the National Center for Health Statistics and the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. The records go back to the 1980s, sometimes earlier.

Ellis anticipates that researchers using the center will pursue topics such as the effects of highway tolls on low-income individuals, how neighborhood environments affect health, and improving population estimates in King County to better allocate funding for schools, public transportation and fire and police services.

Economic data provided at the center can help answer questions on the characteristics that help new businesses thrive and the links between entrepreneurialism and job creation.

Researchers must submit a research proposal and obtain a medium-level security clearance to use the Northwest Census Research Data Center.

The process involves:

  • Discussing the research idea with Ellis and Mike Babb, UW Geography grad student and administrator of the Northwest Census Research Data Center, to ensure the topic is feasible.
  • Preparing a proposal detailing the research question, how it will benefit the census, and which datasets are requested
  • Submitting the proposal to the Census Bureau for review by federal agencies and other researchers. Submissions can be made at any time.

Proposals are seldom rejected, but reviewers usually ask researchers to revise their proposals and resubmit them. It takes about four months to hear whether the proposal has been approved, and census officials are trying to decrease that time to about 60 days.

The center – located in George Russell Jr. Hall in the University District – can accommodate 16 users at a time and most of the data is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Fees apply for some users.

Funding for the center came from UW’s College of Arts and Sciences, Office of the Provost and School of Social Work, with additional funds from the National Science Foundation and the Washington State Office of Financial Management.


For more information, contact Ellis at 206-616-6207 or or Babb at 206-543-1528 or

Watch videos from the Northwest Census Research Data Center’s grand opening, including introductory remarks by UW and census officials, instructions for accessing the center, and a research talk by Melissa Martinson of the School of Social Work describing how she used restricted data to study health of U.S. immigrants.

Overview of demographic , public health, household, and economic data available from the Center


Seattle’s Biopolitical Geographies


Professor Michael Brown and UW Tacoma colleague Larry Knopp have been getting a lot of media attention for their ongoing study,  “Biopolitical Geographies”. They are   investigating the relations in the Pre-AIDS era between Seattle’s Gay & Lesbian community and health-promotion agencies. The project engages with urban, political, and health geographies, as well as urban gay history

They are specifically exploring gays and lesbians’ relations and interactions with two parts of state/local governments: The Seattle-King County Public Health department and the Washington State Liquor Control Board, as well as  the community’s efforts in health promotion and self-regulation. Issues such as “VD” control, contact tracing, (spatial) regulation of gay bars and taverns, and behavior all are of interest. As Brown puts it,

We  are especially  interested in these two state agencies because while we know a lot about other arms of the state (for example, the City Council, Human Rights Commission, the Police, and the courts), less is known about these more everyday, behind-the-scenes agencies. Research on other cities, however, have suggested that these agencies had quite powerful effects on gays’ lives and community formation. Yet Seattle has a distinct political and cultural geography, so we’re interested in finding out specifics of this city. Indeed, preliminary findings are suggesting a more complicated set of relations than the academic literature would suggest! They resonate with recent theoretical work on the geographies of governmentality and biopower.

Brown goes on to explain that “We are interested in the Pre-AIDS era (approximately before 1983) in Seattle, because this was a time of great social change in sexuality and local governance. We are doing both archival research and interviews with people who remember “VD” control back then, were treated or contact-traced by SKCPH, dealt with the Seattle Gay Clinic; or folks who worked in, managed, owned, or just hung out in old Seattle gay bars, taverns, or lounges.

The 50 people interviewed so far have offered insights that include:

-          “Blue laws” that regulated liquor sales could have quite an effect on gay and lesbian spaces: they dictated the floor plans of taverns, their visibility to the street (important if people were “in the closet”), and even the conduct of patrons.

-          Lesbians were required to wear at least three articles of feminine clothing, or else they risked being kicked out of a bar for appearing too “butch.”

-          Health department investigators could be discreet, but were sometimes known to call the homes of closeted gay men who sought treatment for STDs – perhaps leaving a phone message with unassuming wives – to inquire about other sex partners.

“What’s emerging from our research is an understanding by bar owners and patrons of standards of behavior that had to be adhered to,” Knopp said. The liquor board had broad authority to control the conduct of patrons and even declare decorations in bars or restaurants to be too sexually suggestive, he added.

The board was allowed to enforce “the spirit of the law as well as the letter of the law,” Knopp said, giving plenty of wiggle room to reflect the pervasive homophobic attitudes at the time.

Like the TV character Sal Romano in “Mad Men,” many gay Seattleites in the pre-AIDS era were in the closet, married and outwardly living as straight people. They feared losing their jobs or housing, being physically assaulted, being subjected to derision from family and friends, and other consequences of living an openly gay life.

Even in liberal Seattle, many people at the time considered homosexuality a moral failure or mental illness.

“Just because it’s a liberal city doesn’t mean that there wasn’t moral regulation,” Brown said. “We want to know how gay men and lesbians interacted with local policies related to day-to-day life.”

This research is funded by the National Science Foundation (#1059732), endorsed by the Northwest Lesbian & Gay History Project, and Approved by the UW Human Subjects Division.

If you are interested in being interviewed, please contact . Interviews are anonymous and confidential, transcripts will be returned for your editing. They take less than an hour and can be done at a time and place of your convenience. Thanks!

Link to UW News Story on this research project

Link to Seattle Weekly article