Scholars plan to generate new social science research through Urban Network

Steve Koppes
Associate News DirectorUniversity Communications

In an effort to expand scholarship in urban social science, Professor Mario Small and a community of other social scientists have created the University of Chicago Urban Network. The project’s goal is to spur innovation in the study of urban processes and interdisciplinary discourse in urban research, theory and policy.

”Over its history, the University of Chicago has been a consistent pioneer in urban social science, producing many of the most important ideas that have informed both scholarship and policy,” said Mario Small, Professor in Sociology and Director of the Urban Network.

“This initiative aims to renew that tradition, taking advantage of an exceptional core of faculty across the University that is emerging as the new generation of leaders in urban research,” said Small.

As part of the initiative, a conference on urban disadvantage, titled “Rethinking Urban Poverty for the 21st Century: Institutional and Organizational Perspectives,” will be held Thursday, March 10 and Friday, March 11 in Ida Noyes Hall. In addition to developing annual conferences on urban issues, the Urban Network also has been working on a comprehensive website, called the Urban Portal, to provide researchers, practitioners, journalists, and the general public access to the latest research and resources on urban social science.

“The Urban Network builds on the University of Chicago’s commitment to strengthening the city of Chicago and promoting path-breaking urban research,” said conference co-organizer Scott Allard, Associate Professor in the School of Social Service Administration.

“Not only is Chicago a microcosm through which we can view the changing economic and demographic forces shaping our country, but the city also provides opportunity to evaluate many innovative and creative solutions to the challenges confronting urban America today,” Allard said.

The conference comes at a time when the prospects for U.S. cities remain uncertain, noted Allard and Small. The reinvention of many manufacturing centers has been halted, as record budget deficits, limited growth prospects and high unemployment rates undermine urban recovery, Allard and Small pointed out.

“The urban poor continue to bear most heavily the burden of a continuing housing crisis, chronically underperforming schools at a time of increasing returns to education, persistently high birth rates among unmarried mothers, unprecedented rates of obesity and other health problems, and an expansion of the criminal justice system that insists on breaking imprisonment records,” Small said.

Allard added, “Understanding these problems calls for scholarly perspectives that focus not only on individuals and neighborhoods but also on the institutions and organizations that structure their daily lives, mediate their relation to the state, and facilitate or constrain their ability to acquire resources.”

Leading scholars from the University and around the country will present talks at this week’s conference on topics such as housing, criminal justice, health care, education, and immigration. More information is available at the conference website.