Urban, Community and Spatial Sociology

Urban and community sociology thrives at Penn State, thanks to a critical mass of faculty scholars who view places as meaningful, dynamic settings for social life. Examples of place-related topics studied by our faculty include racial/ethnic residential segregation and diversity, neighborhood change, contextual effects (on crime, health, education, and the like), community growth and development, urbanization, immigrant settlement patterns, local ties (interpersonal networks, place attachments, etc.), and urban and rural poverty. Many of these topics are examined at different geographic scales, ranging from the neighborhood to the metropolis and beyond. Although North America remains the primary focus, some faculty investigate urban and community phenomena in other regions of the world.

Students specializing in this area benefit from close mentoring, and they regularly collaborate with faculty and each other on projects leading to publication. They also take advantage of a variety of seminars (see list below) and training opportunities at Penn State (in spatial analysis, multilevel models, and demography, for instance) that strengthen their knowledge and skill base. The job placement record among urban and community students has been excellent, with recent Ph.D. alumni pursuing careers in research universities, teaching-oriented institutions, and government agencies.

Faculty Research

What are the causes and consequences of neighborhood and community inequality?

  • Blacks and Latinos in the United States live in poorer neighborhoods than Whites and Asians. Are the differences widening or narrowing over time? Why?
  • How does residence in—and movement out of—poor neighborhoods shape people’s access to resources and exposure to risks?
  • Which racial groups and metropolitan areas are most and least residentially segregated? What accounts for these patterns and what effects do they have?
  • Communities vary in their investments in crime reduction efforts. How do such efforts and other characteristics of places influence residents’ likelihood of being victimized?

How is diversity affecting American communities?

  • How has ethnoracial diversity changed in cities, suburbs, and rural communities? Is this type of diversity related to diversity on other social and economic dimensions?
  • To what extent is ethnoracial diversity spreading throughout the U.S.? What spatial and demographic dynamics are involved?
  • What do immigrant-rich urban neighborhoods imply for neighborhood stability, safety, the arts scene, and other aspects of local life?
  • How diverse are metropolitan Latino and Asian populations based on their members’ countries of origin? Why do Latino and Asian diversity vary across metro areas?

Why do urban poverty and homelessness persist?

  • Concentrated poverty in American cities has increased in recent years among all ethnoracial groups? Why is this the case?
  • How do heath issues, social ties, and other constraints affect the ability of low-income people to take advantage of residential mobility programs designed to reduce concentrated poverty?
  • Who is most likely to experience involuntary residential moves prompted by natural disaster, eviction, mortgage foreclosure, and the like? What impacts do involuntary moves have?
  • How is the likelihood of entering or exiting homelessness influenced by local economic conditions, public policies, support networks, and personal vulnerabilities?

What are the local implications of global population, climate, and environmental change?

  • What types of relationships exist between communities and natural systems in a developing country context? How do human activities alter these dynamics?
  • How does the international migration of a family member shape the aspirations, education, and other outcomes for children who remain in the sending community?
  • Do vulnerable groups displaced by events such as hurricanes or flooding always wind up in more disadvantaged residential settings after the event?