Online Innovation: UW’s new degree in integrated social sciences

sw_jeMatt Sparke is featured in a Seattle Weekly article on UW’s new online degree in integrated social sciences.  Read more…

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