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Place-Based Research: Why place matters

TRANSCRIBER: Averi Tyler Augier

INTERVIEWER: Avery Moore Kloss [AMK]

PARTICIPANT[S]: Bree Akesson [BA], Genevieve Graaf [GG], Susan Kemp [SK], Allen Ratliff [AR], Cindy Sousa [CS]

DATE: 6 May 2021

LENGTH OF INTERVIEW: 01:10:05 approx.


SUMMARY: Researchers Bree Akesson, Genevieve Graaf, Susan Kemp, Allen Ratliff and Cindy Sousa discuss place-based research in a panel moderated by Avery Moore Kloss.


(‘CRSP Talk’ Theme Plays)


AMK: Welcome back to 'CRSP Talk'. I'm Avery Moore Kloss and if you're just tuning in, welcome. 'CRSP Talk' is a podcast from the Center for Research on Security Practices at Wilfrid Laurier University. We make this podcast because our researchers are doing really incredible work. And here we tell our research stories, educate listeners in our areas of expertise, and we spark discussion. And sparking discussion is top of the list today, because we've got an enormously talented group of researchers from all over the world lined up to talk about place-based research. 


('CRSP Talk' Theme plays)

 Let me introduce you to our panel of guest on the podcast today. I’ve also asked them to give you a quick background on their connection with place-based research. Starting with a voice that may sound familiar. 


BA: Hi, my name is Bree Akesson and I'm an Associate Professor and the Canada Research Chair in Global Adversity and Well-Being at Wilfrid Laurier University in Canada. I'm also the Associate Director of the Center for Research on Security Practices. My research focuses on families who face extreme adversity such as poverty, war and climate change.


AR: My name is Allen Ratliff, and I am an assistant professor in the Department of Family Science and Social Work at Miami University in Ohio. And I studied violence against marginalized young people, specifically, violence against transgender and non binary young people, and young people experiencing homelessness.


GG: I'm Genevieve Graaf. I'm an Assistant Professor in the School of Social Work at the University of Texas at Arlington, and I study children's health and behavioral health policy and services. I'm particularly interested in how policy facilitates access to high quality and effective health care and behavioral health care for children with really complex needs.


CS: My name is Cindy Sousa. I'm an Associate Professor at the Graduate School of Social Work and Social Research at Bryn Mawr College outside of Philadelphia in the United States. At Bryn Mawr College, I also co-direct our Center for Child and Family Well-Being. My scholarship focuses on the health implications of violence, and I have a special interest in place because my work on violence within families, as well as collective violence related to war, and refugees have really helped me think about how the themes of safety, power, and freedom that are so central to well-being are deeply tied to issues of place. 


SK: Hi, I'm Susan Kemp. I'm [a] Professor of Social Work at the University of Auckland in New Zealand and [a] Professor of Social Work Emeritus at the University of Washington and Seattle.

(‘CRSP Talk’ Theme Plays)


AMK: Just as it sounds in place-based research, place is the starting point and the lens driving the methodological decisions. And there's no one better to tee us up for this discussion than that last voice you heard - Susan Kemp, who joined us in the wee hours of the morning from Auckland, New Zealand. When it comes to place-focused research, Susan's work has centered around children, families, and young people in marginalized settings in urban places. She's also a wealth of knowledge on place theory and place history. So, Susan, take it away.


SK: Thank you, Avery , I want to underscore both a bigger point about place in general as a really important focus of people's lives, I would say first, but also of our focus today, which is place-based research. Places matter. They're meaningful locations in people's lives. [Our] homes, workplaces, neighborhoods, [and] our natural environments are all deeply related to our identity, our wellbeing, our life experiences, and our opportunities. In the context of the opportunity to talk with everybody through the auspices of the Center, I just also want to underscore the importance of place in human security. From a fundamental personal level, through to the political threats and disruptions to place undermine individual and collective well being in heightened insecurity, instability and the likelihood of conflict and violence, whether in the home, as we've seen in the context of the current pandemic, with rising levels of family violence, to the wider scales, as was Cindy's work around political violence in Palestine, or the implications of droughts in Syria and Sudan. 


So place matters to us every day, but the current conditions that globally we're all living in starkly reveal the central role of place in human wellbeing, experience insecurity, and an even more compelling need for rigorous, creative place-based research that focuses centrally on questions of social justice and equity. And I really do want to underscore that last point. Globally, all of us are facing a tangle of wicked problems that transform our relationships with place. We're most preoccupied right now with the COVID pandemic, which has had people in nations locked down, contained, [and] confined; it's transformed our relationships with home. It's predicated on [the] assumption that homes and resources are readily available to people even when absolutely clearly there are many people who do not have those resources. If you're homeless, what does "locked down" mean? So all of this has been adding up to significantly heightened differentials in place space resources and place experiences. 


It's been harder this past year or more to keep our eye on climate change, but threaded through the pandemic experience have been a series of extreme weather events from the fires in California and Australia, to ongoing issues of sea-level rise threatening populations; Indigenous populations throughout the world; communities in the Pacific Islands, for example. And threatening communities with dislocation and displacement even as they're actually stuck in many ways from being able to move as refugees, for example, in threatening traditional life ways in an ongoing way through the slow violence of global change. Meanwhile, urbanization continues, creating even more environmental degradation, crowding inequality, and heightening the risks of the pandemic. So these things are risk- they're both interlock[ed] and they're risk multipliers. I can't think of a time- certainly not in my experience, when there's been more need for the issues that preoccupy us as a panel, and then increase the need and foreign salience of place-based and place-focused research. 


Recognizing, however, that actually the changes we're facing right now also make "place-based" a term that we need to think creatively about, because we can't actually get out and into communities in the way, often- right now that we have been accustomed to doing. So I look forward to the rest of the conversation.


AMK: The rest of that conversation starts now. 

('CRSP Talk' Theme plays)


AMK: Well, welcome. I'm so glad that you've all joined us today, and Susan so beautifully explained why we're here already. So maybe we should just jump right into it. And I'll get each of you to briefly answer this first question that I'm going to pose to you, which is 'what does place-based mean to you?' And perhaps we'll go and start with Genevieve, if you don't mind.


GG: When I think about place-based, I usually think specifically about service provision and the context of my research. I'm a children's behavioral health policy and services researcher, and I specifically look at state, and county, and regional variations in health policies and how those impact access to behavioral health care quality of behavioral health care effectiveness of behavioral health care. And I also think about where we provide those services. My background is all in community-based mental health work. And so I worked a lot with families and children in their homes, in parks, in community centers, in schools.


AMK: Okay, let's go to Bree next.


BA: Sure. A place is such an interesting concept for me. And this is probably why I use it in my work. Place is so ubiquitous; it's everything, it's everywhere. And I think Susan really touched upon that in her introduction. And the other thing that's interesting about place as a theory is that everyone knows what it is, but because everyone knows what place is, and because it's so ubiquitous, it's really hard to define. So it's everything, but it's very challenging for researchers to define what it is. I really like to use Relph's framework. Edward Relph was a Canadian Geographer from the 1970s. (laughs) So it's a bit dated, but I find it completely relevant, especially for my work that I do, which is with war-affected families and with families who are impacted by extreme adversity. So Relph has three elements of place. The first is- it's a physical setting. So it's an actual location, it's a geographic site. It's a center that people gathered in- a gathering or so forth. But it's also about the activities that occur in that physical setting. 


So the activities, it's the things that we do within those places that makes it a place. So if we're talking about the home- a home is a house, right? There's the structure of the house, that's the physical setting, but it's a home because it's where the family eats meals, it's where the family feels safe when they're sleeping at night, or it's where, you know, the children are growing up. So there's activities that take place within that physical setting of the house. But it's also the meaning. And that's the third element that Relph emphasizes. And meaning is- it's been called a kind of a space with distinct character. It's been called nodes of a life biography. It's the meaning that we give to this certain place. So if I go with my metaphor of the house, we have the house as a physical setting, it's a home because the family is doing these activities within the home- within the house. But it has meaning because it provides a sense of security or it's an important place for that family. And that's what makes the place so interesting, so unique, and so complicated, as well. And so I found that framework to really help me when I'm thinking about research and place-based methods.


AMK: It's a really beautiful answer. Bree, I really enjoyed that. Let's go to Allen next. Allen, for you, what does place-based mean to you?


AR: Yeah, I think for me place-based means really thinking about that- where we are, affects kind of how we operate in life, it affects our access to resources, it affects our security. I think Susan mentioned earlier thinking about security. And for me, I- so the work that I do is in working with young people experiencing homelessness and sort of violence that targets them in the different places of their lives. And I also study violence against transgender and non-binary people. And I approach place from a from a couple of different frameworks, but least sort of primarily from a social, social ecological framework, and thinking about Bronfenbrenner, and how we have these multiple dimensions of our lives that sort of move from the micro- sort of one-on-one interpersonal interactions, to more complex and bigger interactions to this sort of macro and policy level. And I also think about, actually, Susan, I think a lot about Susan's work and, and how Susan has really talked about place as being constructed by power and places [are] site[s] of power and operations of power. 


And so I think about, you know, how does power operate in the construction of places and the decisions that are made? So in terms of thinking about young people experiencing homelessness, sort of thinking about, you know, where do we put services? How do we locate the things that they need? And how might that relate to their safety? And how might that actually put them in danger (depending on where we are)? And then also thinking about transgender young people, I think, especially now, there's- in the US, there's just been this flood of legislation that's really going after transgender young people trying to ban their access to health care. And so thinking about, you know, how is that an operation of power, and in thinking about how where they live, in the states that they live, they're sort of municipalities that they live in, really determine whether or not they can even access health care in some ways. And so, for me, it's really about where you live, where you spend your time and how power operates to affect your life in those places.


AMK: Thanks, Allen. I really appreciate that from your perspective. To Cindy, I wonder if you might go next. And then we'll go to Susan. Just give me a sense of, for you, what place-based means.


CS: (Laughs) I love the question about what place-based means and what place theory is because I think- you know, I was mapping it out for myself and thinking about everybody's different replies. I mean, I think a lot of us are drawn to place because of the really concrete implications of place for well-being. And so, you know, Bree's presentation of Relph's framework, I think, is extremely helpful. And I think there's other theorists too, that I've gravitated towards who have really talked in kind of a romantic way about the importance of place for well-being. I always think of Tuan, I think of Bachelor already talks so much about home. But early on, it was interesting, something that Susan and I would talk about a lot was, you know, these sort of early theorists of place, sometimes really left out this element of power, which Allen spoke about so nicely too, and I think Genevieve's work speaks to that as well. And this is something that I gravitate back to again, and again and again, that I think part of what makes place so important for our well-being is our sense of power and control over place. 


So in that way, I think that there is that- really, I gravitate towards our people who incorporate, you know, post-colonial theory and critical race theory and feminist theory, Indigenous theory into our conceptions of place. Recently, Susan and I have been working a lot with, like Tuck and McKinsey and their ideas of critical place inquiry. And I think to people who maybe don't- aren't considered place theorists, more generally, but their work talks a lot about place, like bell hooks, for instance. So I think, for me, there's so many different ways to understand place, but because my work really focuses on political violence and oppression, the people that get me to power analysis of place is really the people that resonate the most with me, and that would be, you know, this idea of place as a way to construct people's realities and their ideas about what's possible. So I would just add to that, you know, thinking about Bourdieu too, as talking about the daily practices [that] create power and create people's conceptions of themselves and their abilities to do things and to even exist. 


So, you know, place theory is being developed as we do it, which is what's so great about it. And I think [that's] what's so great about all of us coming together to talk about this continually, because there's different ingredients that all these different thinkers add to it. And I think it can really be used to explain in a really deep way- the connections between well-being and place.


AMK: It's a wonderful answer, Cindy. I'm going to go to Susan next. And Susan, I left you to last on purpose. One, because you had such a beautiful answer, you know, before we began recording, but also because, you know, everyone on the panel has also referenced your work. And so I think that's such a beautiful through line for all of this for you to go last. So please give me a sense of- for you, what does place-based mean?


SK: Thanks, Avery . Gosh, I partly could just stay whatever they said. But place, for me, has had a lot- has been a long organizing thread in my work, I think. And it has dimensions that are both personal- that have come out of different elements in my own experience, and then academic and professional, as I have grown in understanding and benefited from learning with a broad array of interdisciplinary colleagues, as I've gone in search of ways to understand this very hard to define, as Bree says, a construct called place which someone once beautifully described as a suitcase [that is] so overflowing, you can't close the lid. There's so much in the idea of place, and in many ways we engage with it from the things that are most important to us. I began my working life and social work as a community-based practitioner in child protection, and Children and Family Services in New Zealand and places were just part of their everyday life. 


It was a much more locale-based practice, then we would typically see now, but I also came to understand just what devastating consequences it had, for example, for children in foster care when we willy-nilly move them around a lot, from one home to another or when families are very destabilized by poor housing for example. I then moved from New Zealand to the United States and became a transnational with deep ties in two places, but also an absolute fundamental recognition that there was something about this place that I'm now back in, that was deep in me. There's- I fly in and something about the light and the land would touch me in a way that much as I love the places I lived in in the States, it was different. So I as a theorist have been really, really interested, as Cindy has said in power and place and the socio-structural ways in which people's lives- they're privileged or not by the resources and opportunities and places that they're in or not. 


But I also really have been drawn to trying to thread those more structural critical frameworks with an understanding of life to its sort of deepest layers. So from the place philosophy of, for example, with Casey, who's drawn by some criticality, but also on phenomenology to think about really the way that place is an embodied experience for us; that this is fundamental for people, it's not a surface layer. And as I've done work with students, asking them to think about place narrative, for example, that's been brought home for me. So I've had a long interdisciplinary search. I've hung out with environmental psychologists, and geographers, and architects, and urban planners, and environmental scientists, and spatial scientists and have learned from all of them about this multi-dimensional theoretical landscape that we have an opportunity to draw on, and understand place in our own lives, but also in the work that we do, as scholars.


AMK: A really wonderful answer. I'm going to go to Bree next. Bree, did you have some thoughts you wanted to add there?


BA: Yeah, I just wanted to add something 'cause I'm curious, and maybe even others have something to say; that Susan brought up such an interesting point about her own place, and how recognition of one's own place in the world is, I think, critical for place-based research. So the researcher has to understand what their place is and also what that journey was. So you know, moving from place to place, for example, as Susan described, and I just think that that's so important when we're talking about our understanding of place, because we have to understand what that place is. So I'm just thinking of my example of- I remember, just as a younger person, I remember just moving so much right when I move, you know, to different cities, different apartments, different countries, and just, I remember feeling, you know, feeling sense of nostalgia and homesickness, and these kinds of really intense emotions about place. 


And even now, I'm moving homes right now, like, I'm in the midst of moving my house, and I feel a real sense of loss of losing this old place that I've, you know, been in for seven years, and moving to this brand new place that's unfamiliar, but kind of exciting. So all these emotions come into place. And I think I just wanted to underscore how important it is, I think, for researchers who are doing place-based research, to understand our own reactions to place, understand our own story of place, understand our own, you know, journey towards getting to this point in our understanding of how the people, oftentimes marginalized, vulnerable populations that we're researching, with our understanding place as well.


AMK: That really flips it on its head a little bit, doesn't it? Talking, you know, turning it back on the researcher and this idea of place. To Allen, I'd love to hear what you think.


AR: Yeah, I love that Bree brought this up. I think that, you know, so much of our work is punch- my critical framework. And I- this idea of reflexivity, is a part of a lot of sort of critical theoretical frameworks. And I think that it is critically important to bring in here. And so, for me, place really came up a lot in my early life. I grew up in a state in the US that was not very friendly. And I grew up as a queer young person. And I remember that as I was growing up, and having a really hard time that the affirming people in my life would say things like, "you're going to get out of here, like you're gonna, you're going to be able to leave once you graduate from high school, you're going to be able to go somewhere else." And also the sort of needing to be sort of homeless, my last year of high school and being out of my home, because of safety things, and that this sort of early understanding of safety and home and place as a sort of way of thinking about where I could find safety was a part of my early understanding. 


And I think it's really informed how and why I do the work now and thinking about violence and safety for young people. And I think that it's interesting to think about, you know, how we- I think often, especially in social sciences, we kind of sometimes study the things that are about us in ways and this is actually the first time I'm really sort of thinking about that and thinking about that relationship between my early life experiences with place and safety and power, and how now, 20 years later, how that's coming into my work and how it's been an important part of how I understand the world that I try to study.


CS: Yeah, I think- to what you were saying, Allen and Susan, to- remembering place as an embodied experience, I think helps us think more about, you know, why it's so important and how we all know about it, but often don't articulate what we know about it. And I know, we'll be talking in a bit about different methods to get at place inquiry. But I think one of the most powerful things for me is thinking about, you know, as we move towards using a more critical lens, and a post-colonial lens, and a feminist lens, opening up what counts is knowledge and our own bodily (laughs) experience, is such a powerful source of knowledge. And it is interesting, because when you- when we ask people, whether it's people that we're interviewing, or students that we're helping think through concepts of place, we all know and can name places where we've felt safety and ease and a sense that our full selves can be present. 


And then as Allen was talking about too, different- you know, many of us for different positionalities or another can also think about the places that just incite fear and terror, and where you have such a lack of safety and such a lack of ease. So I think what's powerful about starting to think about innovative methods for place and innovative theories, are the ways that it helps people reclaim knowledge that we all have to really open up place as a as a point of inquiry, especially as it relates to these issues of safety, and well-being, and fear, and identity.


AMK: Absolutely. And I think, you know, obviously, that conversation about place-based inquiry is coming. But I wonder if before we get there, to Bree, I wonder if you would just give us a sense- you know, to frame this conversation we're having in human security, how can elements of human security be explored using these place-based methods?


BA: Yeah, I think that place and human security really go hand in hand. I think as, you know, Cindy just described, you know, how comfortable you feel in a place or how uncomfortable we do, right, you know, fear versus, you know, satisfaction or well being and those kinds of things really come into play when we look at how place plays a role in human security. So maybe I can step back for a second and just talk a little bit about security. So like place, security is also a very broad, ubiquitous, and contested term. So it's used in so many different ways. It can be used as, you know, technological security, you know, how we use technology to surveil or to keep, you know, home safe with, with security systems, those kinds of things, right? But it also has to do with well-being, comfort, and those kinds of elements as well. There's a [United Nations] definition of human security that I really like to use. And I quote it, even though it's a bit outdated, as well, but it's, "freedom from fear, want, poverty, and despair." 


And, again, very broad, very- could be contested. But I think place really plays a role in those elements of human security. So fear, want, poverty, despair, those kinds of things. Place can be a mediator; it can ameliorate these- the things that are lacking in people's lives, but it can also exacerbate those things as well. And so I think that the combination of human security and place, is very powerful in that way. And, you know, as my colleagues on this podcast will note, we all study different elements of human security through that place lens.


CS: I was just thinking again, about that UN definition and how it also includes the idea of dignity, and how in one way or another, I think a lot of us are talking about places as a way to claim dignity, even metaphors of place.


BA: Yeah, and I was gonna add to that, Cindy, that there's also- it's not just the place as a static thing. (laughs) It's actually- I would say dignity has to do with mobility, right, from place to place, like that dignity of being able to move from place to place, being able to leave your home and not feel fearful that, you know, someone's going to attack you, or allowing your children to go to school and not being afraid that they're going to be harassed on the way to school, or so- those are lots of different elements that we could chat about, but it's not just the place, but it's also the mobility, but dignity is such an important element of that. But again, another understudied, (laughs) ubiquitous, hard to define term, but it definitely comes into play.


CS: Yeah, I think that's part of what people mean when they say, "someday you'll find your place." And I was thinking of that, when I was listening to Allen's story; to find your place means that you will feel safe, but also that you'll have a sense of dignity.


AMK: So the- I was actually gonna say, I'm really interested to hear Allen's answer to this question, because I think you already did kind of allude to it in the previous question. But, Allen, for you in the work that you do, and in your experiences, how is human security tied to this idea of place-based methods?


AR: Yeah. You know, I think that I appreciate that definition of security, and also thinking about the different dimensions of it. And really thinking about mobility as well, like something that came up for me as I was listening to Bree talking about it is- in a sort of going back to this example of the sort of current political atmosphere around these legislative bans on gender-affirming health care for transgender children. And how, as these bans are being implemented, that there are now families who are some of them desperate to leave that are trying to escape those places, to move to different states or different places where they can get the life-saving healthcare that their children need, and how that also sort of lends itself to [the question of] who's able to do that, who's able to have that security of being able to have the mobility to move to a place where they can be safe, where they can access and have the health care and support that they need? 


Because, you know, I mean, not everybody can just get up and move right? Like, especially if we're thinking about, like, economic resources, if we're thinking about, you know, what does that economic security look like for certain families, we know that there are, you know, that families are the marginalized groups of people that are less likely to have the economic resources to just get up and move their families to a place where their kids are safe. And also, thinking about, you know, how security also means in the work that I think about within people experiencing homelessness, that you know, sort of even actually having a home, but really even meeting their basic needs, that young people experiencing homelessness in the workplace have done have, that they're reliant on services, they're reliant on the city and the state where they're in funding those services and prioritizing their well-being. And that also sort of leads to the ways that they might be able to live their best lives, and how that mobility, and access to resources, and the ability to be safe, all sort of plays into these dynamics of place and security.


AMK: Yeah, absolutely. As you're talking, I'm thinking, I wonder if Genevieve, you might go next, if- I have a feeling that your answer might actually build really nicely on Allens answer about human security?


GG: Sure. I just wanted to chime in. A lot of Allen's work is very similar to how I think about place because I think a lot about state variation and policy. And of course, I think about health policy the most. But I broaden that to think about all sorts of kinds of policies. And one of the counter arguments that I've heard from folks that are very focused on states' rights to create policies that are right for their community and for the community of their state, is that if people don't like the policies in their state that they can move to another state that has policies they do like, and I always find that to be a really problematic argument, not just because of the economic resources required to be that mobile, but it completely negates the emotional connection that people have in their homes, in their communities that they may not want to leave you even if they had the economic resources to do so. And that just kind of ties into what Cindy and Bree have talked about so much- about the amount of emotional connection we have to place and space. And so that's all I wanted to add.


CS: Yeah, I love that point, Genevieve, because it reminds me too, of talking about place with this sense of the right to place. And to think about it in terms of that framework as well; that people have a right to places where they have dignity and safety. And yes, this rhetoric- well, whether it's used against refugees, or you know, people here trying to find a sense- find a place to live that honours themselves, and where they don't have to be constantly afraid of, you know, dying at the hands of police brutality or at the hands of state brutality, via policies. You know, I think pushing back against that and saying that we all have a right to place, I think, is a really important point. And so talking about that is, you know, the real- part of the reason why is the fact that place is so important to us.


AMK: I see Susan nodding along. (laughs) And I just wondered as she nods what she's thinking.


SK: I was actually perhaps on a little bit of a tangent, but I was just thinking what a powerful set of ideas these are, and how important Cindy's point about the right to places. And that part of the right to place, where we're in a way sort of threading a conversation about threats to the right to place as being absolutely critical to human security, and destabilizing of that. But I was thinking of the work of Grace Lee Boggs, who's no longer with us, unfortunately, who worked for many years in Detroit, with community- building community around- and use places of vector for people from multiple interests, and multiple communities, and multiple race[s], ethnic backgrounds, building on the work of placemaking. She believed people care about their places; that they're a site of agency, and resistance, and growth, and opportunity, and dignity, to use that word. And so I think- I was just pondering how we thread and balance the questions of threat and risk and potential harm against releasing people's innate interest in making themselves and their communities into places that have those attributes. So that was the balance I was thinking about.


AMK: Bree, to you. I think you had something that you really wanted to add here.


BA: Yeah, I love that idea of the right to place, but also considering threats to place and what happens when place is taken away. So I think that this reminds me of some work that I'm doing right now on something called extreme domicide, and domicide is the intentional destruction of one's home. And it's- extreme type of domicide is the intentional destruction of one's home due to political violence, or conflict, or war. And what's so interesting about the research that- to me, what's so interesting about doing this research has been understanding that it's not just, you know, the people's connection to home, and to place, and to community, and to family. But it's also what happens when that place is lost. And then what happens when that place is intentionally destroyed, and how it's a unique violation to someone's psyche, that their home was intentionally destroyed, and how that can be extremely destabilizing and disorienting. 


And it's a very powerful message to a population when their homes are intentionally destroyed. So I guess I just wanted to bring it up, because as an element of human security, I think that it shows that it's not just the right to place, it's the right to not have one's place destroyed. It's the right to have a say in what happens to that place. It's a right to have a say in where one wants to return to in the context of the populations I work with (refugees and displaced populations). 100%- 99% would say, "I want to go back home. I want to be back in my home. I want to be back in my community. And the second best option is okay; if I have to resettle somewhere as a refugee. If I must, I'll do that," but the first priority is that home and that right to that home I think is so important. That right to place and that right to the dignity of having that choice, I think is also another element of human security that I think is so important.


AMK: Yeah, absolutely. I'd like to move on to a little bit of talking about, you know, innovation in this space. And, you know, when you're conducting place-based research, I wonder if anyone would volunteer to perhaps give us a sense of something innovative [that] you've tried or that you've done in this space and give us a sense of, you know, why that was important in the work that you were doing. Cindy, we'll go to you. Can you give us an example of something innovative in this space?


CS: I think one of the things I've been contemplating [is], you know, how do we know about place and the importance of place is thinking about what are the methods that can get us there? And one of the things that I've done, which is common in a lot of fields, but not as common in social work (which is my field), is to do really prolonged field work. I mean, obviously, anthropologists talk about that a lot. You know, geographers talk about that a lot. But in social work and health research, oftentimes, we don't do a lot of field work. And I really think especially when we're doing investigations that are outside of our, you know, sort of typical mileu, it's really important to do that prolonged field work and to take field notes. And to take photos. I know, Bree and I have talked a lot about photos and Bree's inspired me to use more of my own photos when I do presentations and even publications. Because I think that to know a place and to know the impact of a place, we have to be there. 


And we have to -as much as we can- try to understand the embodied experience of that place. And by doing that work in Palestine, I- when I started research in Palestine, I spent a summer there before I actually did any surveys or focus groups or anything. And I needed that year to also understand how my own embodied experience of the place related to all of these issues of freedom of movement, of privilege, of power, of fear, of, you know, claustrophobia; the feeling that you couldn't get out of a place- that you would be in a place and the checkpoints would, you know, shut down, you wouldn't be able to get back through. So all of that then helped me shape the eventual survey that I created. 


Whereas if I had designed it only from the United States, not having that experience, I might have conceptualized political violence as primarily shootings, or as primarily- even aerial bombardments, but not have gotten at the more daily aspects, which in a way are more pernicious of having to see, you know, for instance, the wall in front of your home being built, or being separated from your traditional family lands, or being separate and not even able to see friends or family, because there's checkpoints in the way. So I think it's not wholly innovative, but in the field of health research, it is a little bit rare to be doing prolonged field work, and really deep engagement with the site of inquiry.


AMK: Just as a quick follow up to that, I mean, you talk about, you know, being in a place more than just visiting, actually experiencing the place that you're going to research. How did human relationships play into that for you? You know, I'm assuming along the way, you were able to make some relationships that perhaps made the research work easier since you've been there for a little bit of time.


CS: Absolutely. And I think when we traveled around to different towns too, I experienced place through the eyes of local researchers, some of whom were new to some of the places that we went to as well. So in a way, we were building new knowledge together. But it also was a natural time for me to ask, you know, "this is what I'm experiencing, how common is this?" And they would say, "it's totally common, you have to include it in the survey, you have to include, you know, that people often go through checkpoints, you know, 10 times in a day, if they're going back and forth to work and home, for instance. Or you have to include material loss, because it's so common." So, yeah, I mean, I think we've known for a long time that building those human relationships really illuminate our areas of inquiry. But the ways that those also rest in locations are also really vital to think about as we're devising our methods.


AMK: Yeah, that's a really interesting experience. Thank you for sharing that, Cindy. Did anyone else want to share something that they thought quite innovative, that they wanted to share something they've tried that worked or didn't work?


AR: Sure, I can share. Well, I think this start- one of the things about research, especially research in areas where there's not necessarily a lot happening is that sometimes you sort of do something, thinking you're being really innovative. And then find out that someone else has already kind of done something similar. So this has been fun. I especially because I did a project that I thought was really innovative and then [came] to find out Bree actually had done something similar like two or three years before that. But the study that I was working in with young people experiencing homelessness in San Francisco, we did this sort of similar method, even to I think what Cindy was talking about where we, you know, sort of talk to the young folks experiencing homelessness on the street and ask them to take us on tours of where they spend their time. And so they walk us around their neighborhoods where they spend their time. And we asked them to really talk about safety, to talk about danger or violence, and then talk about resources.


And so they would literally point out like, "that place right there; I can go to the bathroom. That place right there; the business owner always calls the cops on us, even if we're just walking by." And so then we could turn that- we took those interviews, those walking tours. And we also do take photos as well, and use that qualitative information and turn it into spatial data. And so I went through and had a team of folks who we went through and read every single transcript and every single time that someone talked about a physical place that had some sort of element of danger, or safety, or violence to it, we coded it and then we went through and found all those places from the transcripts and then actually geo-coded it. So we got the GPS coordinates for every single one of those places. And we're able to map that and produce this visual of all of the places where young folks in our study found safety and all the places where they felt danger and all the places where they found resources. 


And that really led us to both using this qualitative as really rich interview data and using the spatial data that we constructed from it, to think about how, again, sort of going back to this idea of mobility, how mobility really is a huge part of their lives as they as they move around and look for resources, and find safety. And just to share briefly what those findings were is that we found that young folks go sort of farther away from the sort of more dense commercial areas that also were areas where there were more services and resources. They go to neighborhoods or they go to parks to find safety to sort of avoid the dangers of their daily lives, to avoid the dangers of police brutality. And then, but then that- what that does is that then forces them when they get up in the morning after they've been able to sleep in a safe place is that they have to then commute to downtown areas or to city centers to go find those resources: the food bank, the drop in centers where they can take a shower. 


But those places are all in dangerous places. So they're sort of literally putting themselves in harm's way, as they're moving from safety to go find resources. And then they have to keep moving throughout the day. And so we were able to not only map these specific places where they experienced safety and violence, but also some of the routes that they take. And not only it's just that sort of qualitative spatial strategy, relatively innovative, although, you know, Bree's been doing it first. But it also really gave us the opportunity to think about, you know, where can the city of San Francisco target, putting its resources, right, so if we know that there are places that are unsafe for young people experiencing homelessness to go, where might we put those resources in other places? How do we place resources in the places where young folks need those resources to be while they can also be safe at the same time?


AMK: Yeah, that's a really interesting approach, Allen, and I'd love to go to Genevieve to talk a little bit more, you know, bounce off that, but more kind of from a policy framework.


GG: Sure. The work that I do, as I said before, looks at variation on state-level behavioral health policies. And it's not innovative. People do this work, although it's not- there aren't a lot of people that do it. There's some standard methods where you collect data about a particular policy, and maybe even code some variables about that policy. And you usually layer that into a larger national data set that you can identify states or counties with and look at the population level effects that can be observed through or in relation to these variations in policy. And I do some of that work. But what I found, and it was really nice, a health services researcher recently reflected to me. She thought that that was the more innovative part of what I do; is that I seek key informants at the state level to add qualitative information that you can't get from quantitative data. So when I look at the policy, I have this little policy that I'm so interested in, which is a type of Medicaid policy that helps to create access and funding for really intensive home and community-based supports for children and adults with really complex health needs.


And states vary greatly to what extent they use these kinds of policies and who they serve with these policies. And so I look at the use of these policies for this really specific population of children that have really complex behavioral health care needs. And they are specifically aimed at keeping children out of institutional settings. So there's even a place element to these policies that the goal is to serve them in homes and communities, and keep them in their homes and communities. And so when I'm examining these policies, I can look at what states have them, what are the variables attached to these kinds of policies. And I love my quantitative data. And I like to look at how it looks in relationship to population level outcomes, like the use of long-term or institutional care for behavioral health with children or inpatient hospitalizations related to psychiatric needs. But what we can't get from that data is information about what are the variables that affect why states utilize these policies? 


And if they're not utilizing policies, are they doing other things that I don't know about, that are happening to deliver care to these kids through other mechanisms that are just less observable in public data (because that's usually where we get our information about policies is from publicly available data)? And so I like to mix the two pieces of information together and get a sense of what are the variables that I need to control for when I'm trying to compare the use of these policies across states. And the reason that that's important is because a lot of- I feel like a lot of people- and this is me, just speaking in my perspective, a lot of people think you can't compare state systems or state healthcare systems or behavioral health systems, because I like to say every state thinks they're a special snowflake. And every state is really, really unique and different. And the contexts and environments of those states are so complex and interesting. And the only way to find out about those differences is to actually get qualitative information from key informants, policymakers, policy administrators that are in the states and combine it with that.


AMK: Yeah, I think that's a really interesting conversation to have. And actually, I think, a really good jumping off point for our last question, too, as you kind of look through, like, what's the future of this kind of method? So I'm gonna end off this panel discussion by going to each of you with this last question. And the question is, what do you think the future of place is in research on human security? And I think we'll start with Susan. So Susan, if you could lead us off with that last question. And then we'll go through everyone to make sure everyone gets a chance to answer this last one.


SK: Thanks, Avery . I'm really struck, listening to everybody on the panel, by the ways in which collectively, we envision/think about/research place as a multi-scalar phenomenon. From the most personal to the most macro, whether you're thinking from policy to lives on the ground, or thinking about the interconnections between and among those things. I am not an expert in security studies, but [due to] the dipping into those areas that I have done, it strikes me that often security gets conceptualized in those literatures as a more mezzo/macro, institutional issue. And that multi-scalar notion of place. And perhaps place in general isn't foregrounded in security studies at this point. So one thing I think, is that I would just think about the future of place and research on human security is that it could A) be much more foregrounded, and there's a lot more room, I suspect, for the multi-dimensional multi-scalar nuanced ways in which the panel has talked about it, and think about it, and engage with it.


And a second point I would make, which I think has also been a consistent theme across the panel is- sort of returning to the points that I've made in the past as well that Allen alluded to which is this notion of power relations coming literally to ground in place. So as we centre questions of social justice and equity, we think about them at multiple scales, but they lived on the ground in lives in the everyday. And those lives, live somewhere. We don't live in the world in general. So I just would reiterate that need to both centre social justice and equity and to understand place as a critical vector for doing that. Thanks, Avery .


AMK: Thank you so much, Susan. Bree, I'll go to you next to answer this question: what do you think is the future of place in research on human security?


BA: Yeah. And I wanted to follow up with- up on what Susan said about place being conceptualized now as a multi-scalar notion and kind of the interconnection. So I think, I think that's where we're heading in terms of place-based research. So I think maybe I'll step back and just say, first of all, I do think place-based research could be anything. (laughs) It's very big. I think it's just when place is the lens- when you're looking at place as a lens, or even an element of what you're looking at. So Allen's work, and Genevieve's work, and everybody's work is so indicative of that, right, where you're looking at these concepts, but looking through this lens of place. So I think we're doing that quite well, with place-based research. We're sampling from different geographical locations, for example. So you're sampling populations that live in cities versus rural areas. That's happening in research. We're considering the different kinds of places where people live, like what's it like to live in a home versus an apartment, or what's it like to live in this country versus this country in terms of looking at a specific phenomenon.


And then we're also involving people in elements of place. So we're asking, you know, children to draw maps, or we're asking people to carry GPS units so that we can see the places that they go and the things that they do, so we're doing that quite well. So now what I think the future would be is exactly what Susan's talking about, is this exploring place as a multi-scalar phenomenon, looking at the interconnections. And I'll give an example from a direction that I'm heading in my research; is looking at climate change, for example, and war and how those are- how they interface and how they're impacting people's lives and unfortunately, impacting many populations who are already extremely marginalized. So one example is the Rohingya population who has been displaced from Myanmar, and they're living in Bangladesh. 


And they're fleeing conflict, they're fleeing political violence, they're fleeing- what's been termed an ethnic cleansing, extreme violence against their communities, and they end up in Bangladesh, which has welcomed them. But Bangladesh is also at the forefront of climate change, it's the forefront of extreme weather. And then you have a large number of refugees living in this certain location in Bangladesh, and you have elements of environmental degradation. So the place where these populations are living, where these families/communities are displaced, and living are actually, you know, falling apart and environmental degradation is very, you know, apparent in these places. And then you also have, you know, elements of, you know, typhoons and monsoons and those kinds of things. So I think- I use that as an example, because I think that it fits really well with what Susan was saying, about, we're looking, I think, kind of pushing place a bit more. 


And we're looking at these interconnections and everyday experiences of place, and everyday experiences with these, you know, the nexus between climate change and war, for example, or other kinds of elements that I'm sure my colleagues can also talk about.


AMK: That's wonderful, Bree, thank you so much. Next, we're gonna go to Genevieve. Genevieve, where do you think the future of place is in this conversation about human security research?


GG: I think that what Susan and Bree have spoken to is very resonant, especially given the work that I do, where I think about, in my view, that connection between how place-based policies affect the people that are living in those places, in terms of what they can access to keep them safe, to keep their children in their home, to access the supports and resources that they need. Where I'd like to go is I'd like to move forward and in holding places, and counties, and states accountable to the fact that they can be compared to other states and counties. And that we can look critically at the policies that they're using and how they impact the populations living in those states in a way that we haven't really done much before. It's definitely an emerging area. 


And I think that the ACA (the Affordable Care Act in the United States) and the decision about the Medicaid expansion that allowed states to choose to reject the Medicaid expansion and therefore denying, you know, millions of people access to health coverage in the United States, and the fact that that was a state-based policy that was based in ideologies around rights related to place, and self-government of place, really raised that in terms of policy research, and really brought the idea of looking at states and state policies and comparing state choices to a new level that I'm really hopeful that we see more of that from a policy research perspective.


AR: Yeah, I really resonate with this idea that Genevieve just brought up about accountability. I think that the future of place, particularly thinking about the ways that it intersects with security is about accountability. It's about helping us see the different ways that these systems of power lead to policies, and decisions, and access in ways that create disparities and create systemic trauma. And, you know, I'm a little surprised, we haven't brought up COVID at all in this conversation. But I think that the decisions made in this are place-based decisions made around COVID are good examples of the way that accountability is becoming more a part of this conversation connected to place; that how systems of power in certain places made decisions compared to how similar systems made decisions in other places are really things that we can compare, and things that I think we should, and we should point to the ways that those decisions contribute to safety. 


You contribute to sort of the right to- or the value of home and community. You know, I think about, you know, what I mentioned earlier about the- these policies in the US about banning access to gender-affirming health care for transgender young people, and thinking about the ways that these kind of policies enact violence, and that they're really place-based; that where you live is about the kind of violence you're experiencing. And I hope that- and I think that we're all in many ways trying to sort of move in a direction of thinking about: how can we use this research to enact change? How can we hold systems of power accountable to the effects of these sort of multi-scalar decisions and how sort of a macro-level policy decision in a certain place might affect a person's individual life and wellbeing in that place as well. 


And really thinking about, you know, also, the other thing that a couple of folks have mentioned is this idea of states rights or sort of these individual rights or sovereign rights at a given place, and how, you know, those can and should be challenged that the way that those things affect people is not independent, or excluded, or isolated from everywhere else, but that we are all connected. I think in many ways, place research shows us how, in some ways, we're all connected. In some ways, we're all sort of together in all of this, that we're all sort of the same in many ways, even though things can be very different based on where we are.


AMK: Yeah, there's a lot of really excellent points in there, Allen. To Cindy, I'll let you take us out on this one. What do you see as the future of place in this kind of research?


CS: I think of two important priorities when I think about the future of place and human security. I think the first is what we started off with by really talking about the need for more investigation and articulation about why place is so important. I think we've all, you know, articulated some ideas here today. But I think, you know, we need to continue to talk about what it is about place that can assure people of their emotional wellbeing, of their physical wellbeing, of their right to survive, and even to thrive. So I think that first priority is important to continue to think about methods and venues to talk about why place is important. And then I think the second one is to continue to assert- to use that knowledge to continue to research the connections between human rights, place, security, and wellbeing, and to think about the dynamics that that entails. And I think Allen brought us back to COVID, which I think really does help us think about the contradictions of place in terms of home and rootedness. 


And also our need for movement and interaction and the questions of who has the right to do that, who needs to do that economically, who has the right to home and safety. So I think continuing to talk about the dual right, that we all have to have a home, to feel rooted, to be safe, to take care of, you know, ourselves in a place that affirms our identity, and also our need for a larger sense of place, which, you know, entails an emotional and collective sense of movement, but within bounds, where we're also talking about a culture of care. So how do we think about place in a way that also represents the collectivity that needs to be thought about? And I think one final thought that I have is also bringing us back to the concept of power in place. I'm thinking about sovereignty. I was just talking to a friend of mine yesterday about tribal lands in the United States and how well they're doing with COVID vaccines and how early many of them shut down as just a real example of a reclamation of a right to place, both individually and collectively. And literally saying, "at this point, we're shutting it down. 


We're reclaiming our sovereignty for our own wellbeing." And the ability to do that is so important for health. So I think that's something that we need to be thinking about as we move into a post-COVID world, hopefully, eventually, and also into a post Trump era, hopefully, eventually; thinking about dignity and the right for both safety in place and the ability to move as possible.


AMK: Yeah, absolutely. And I think that, you know, on that COVID topic, like you said, there's probably a whole second podcast we could do about security in place and COVID, and how that's all been affected. But listen, I want to really thank all of you for this time. This was such a wonderful melding of the minds to come together and talk about place as a construct, and place as part of research, and so thank you from all the places in the world, you joined this podcast episode. Thank you for your thoughts, and thank you for being here.


BA: Thanks so much, Avery .


AR: Yeah, thank you.


GG: Thank you so much, everyone.


BA: Great conversation.

('CRSP Talk' Theme plays)


AMK: Thank you for listening to this episode of 'CRSP Talk.' We were so fortunate that our dream panel of guests were able to join us today. Susan Kemp is the Charles O. Cressey Endowed Professor Emeritus at the University of Washington School of Social Work in Seattle, and Professor of Social Work at the University of Auckland, New Zealand. Bree Akesson is an Associate Professor of Social Work at Wilfrid Laurier University. She is also the Canada Research Chair in Global Adversity and Wellbeing and the Associate Director here at 'Crisp.' Genevieve Graf is an Assistant Professor in the School of Social Work at the University of Texas at Arlington. Allen Ratliff is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Family Science and Social Work at Miami University in Ohio. And Cindy Sousa is an Associate Professor of Social Work at Bryn Mawr College. You can find more information about our guests and their research in the show notes of this episode. We are so glad you joined us today, and we can't wait to uncover more of our research on the next episode. This is 'CRSP Talk', and I'm Avery Moore Kloss.

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