Friday, June 8, 2012

Retired MSU prof, former student write geographic sociology book

From Mississippi State University: Retired MSU prof, former student write geographic sociology book 

STARKVILLE, Miss.--A Mississippi State emeritus professor of sociology and his final doctoral-degree advisee at the university are co-authors of a new book on geographical sociology.

"Geographical Sociology: Theoretical Foundations and Methodological Applications in the Sociology of Location" is the work of Jeremy R. Porter and Frank M. Howell. It is a recent release by Springer, one of the world's largest science publishers, and available through major booksellers like Amazon and Barnes & Noble.
Their book is the first to assemble the historical literature on the relationship between the methods of map-making and statistical analysis--and why location might matter in a particular social problem--into one volume.

Howell, an MSU doctoral graduate and now retired faculty member, helped establish courses on geographical informational systems while at the university. Porter, who graduated in 2008, now is a sociology faculty member at the City University of New York.

"The concept for this book was Jeremy's idea," Howell said. "He said I had always hounded students in the spatial analysis class to think theoretically when using GIS so that we weren't just trying to make 'pretty maps' without understanding what was producing the data."

As examples, Howell said issues facing communities, "such as where will MSU extend its bus system routes out in the Starkville area to what are the likely long-term development impacts of the new Saturn automobile plant near Tupelo, are likely to have spatial dimensions.

"It's no accident that the three major things in real estate are said to be location, location, and location," he observed. "We organize the existing theoretical reasons as to why this is the case."

Porter, who minored in mathematics and statistics, also completed the interdisciplinary GIS certification program before taking a post-doctoral fellowship at Rice University. At CUNY, he holds a joint appointment between its School of Business and Institute for Children's Studies, as well as being affiliated with the CUNY Graduate Center and its Institute for Demographic Research.

His research with Howell focuses on tying together numerous concepts and theories from the disciplines of sociology and economics, as well as how to implement them statistically.

"The explosion of methods to do spatial analysis in the social sciences has generated the capability to produce complex analyses of data about location," Porter said. "In reality, both disciplines had spatial theories about location in use almost a century ago that remained stagnant due to the requirement to produce maps by hand. These concepts and theories have lain almost dormant until recently due to this cumbersome lack of technology."

The authors explained how basic spatial concepts of containment, adjacency, proximity and others are illustrated using spatial data. Containment refers to the boundaries reducing social contact such as the lack of multi-lane highways, a mountain range, or a river without a nearby bridge. Adjacency refers to what is "near" a particular location.

These concepts help provide a better appreciation for the dramatic increase in suburban growth around large cities as middle-class Americans realized a desire for larger homes but with only a half-hour driving access to amenities of the central city.

Proximity is a similar concept, but refers to the absolute distance from one location to another.
"These concepts are the building blocks of most social theories of location, but are often not directly measured in research," Porter noted. "Our book tries to integrate them into the methods in which to use them by illustrating them with real data from our research."

Continuing their efforts, the authors now are working on a follow-up book, "Spatial Analysis of Social Data: Concepts, Data and Methods," under contract with Springer. This book is designed to help social scientists learn the correct and desired methods for analyzing and visualizing spatial data. Publication is anticipated in early 2013.
As an outgrowth of their work together, Porter said they additionally have launched as editors-in-chief a new multimedia journal titled Spatial Demography. Available at, it is a publication of PressForward at Virginia's George Mason University. Guangqing Chi, assistant professor of sociology at MSU, is a member of the editorial board. The first issue will feature peer-reviewed work using spatial methods in social demography, Howell added.
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