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From Theory to Method and Back Again: Linking Environmental Justice, Population Health and Geographical Information Science

Principal Investigators
Michael Buzzelli and Gerry Veenstra, UBC

The purposes of the workshop are (1) to develop the mutual advancement of mostly unrelated literatures, namely, environmental justice, place and health, critical social theory and geographic information science, and (2) to establish an interdisciplinary and international comparative research programme in urban contexts around the world.

The substantive foci are (i) environmental justice, a body of work concerned with the health impacts of physical environmental quality, (ii) public health research focused on the importance of ‘place’ as a determinant of health, (iii) critical social theory, a set of theoretical perspectives concerned with the nature of inequalities embedded in social structure, and (iv) the manifestation of health inequalities in space, modelled using geographic information science (GIS). Given the weak linkages between these literatures, it is difficult to address such questions as: What are the health impacts of environmental hazards across social groups? How important are environmental hazards vis-à-vis social determinants of health? At which scales, individual, neighbourhood, community or society are these manifested? Theoretically, what does all of this tell us about the linkages between individual agency, social structure and the physical environment?

The workshop will bring together noted UBC and international scholars spanning the social, physical and health sciences. The workshop will target the immediate goal(s) of establishing a lecture series and/or producing an edited book. The intermediate goal for the principal investigators in particular will be to apply insights gleaned from the workshop to on-going work in Canada (Buzzelli) and in 25 communities in British Columbia (Veenstra). The longer-term goal is to establish an international comparative research programme based in Europe and in North America.