Dean Gallaher and I met on December 5th for over an hour to ‘finalize’ the proposed research design methodology that I had settled on: a large-n approach with a focus on explaining variation in the uneven spatial patterns of eviction rates in Washington D.C.
Specifically, we spent time discussing the gentrification index that I will have to develop over the course of 306. Here she made two specific recommendations: first that the index be interval-ratio, as opposed to the possible to gentrify/gentrifying/gentrified labels other authors have created and, second, that the index be specific to the district. This second recommendation is particularly important when determining the inputs that go into creating the index. For instance, a similar index for San Francisco, because of the unique nature of gentrification in that city, might not include the percent decrease in the black population as part of an index while that factor will definitely be part of a D.C. specific interval.
Dean Gallaher also helped me plan out the next steps for moving forward into 306. One of my first tasks is attempting to get the full context for the data I have from the Office of the Tenant Advocate. What does the case number listed in my data mean? Is an internal filing system or does it refer to court cases where I might be able to find other records? Are all scheduled evictions carried out? And if not is there a record of that? All those questions are necessary to know what data I really have so far, and what conclusions I could draw from an explanation of them.
Finally, a question we talked about, but one that I also wanted to bring up in a broader context, has to do with of the scope of my project and the body of scholarship to which my research would belong. Am I entering a conversation with other scholars studying urban phenomena in Washington D.C.? Or am I entering a conversation with scholars who study eviction specifically (in cities/regions around the world)? I understand that those two conversations are not mutually exclusive, but it’s a question I do not have a good answer for, and I think having an answer for it would help me narrow my focus.
Restating my conceptual puzzle and research question from an interpretivist lens:
I am proposing to research the discourses that tied together the American Dream and homeownership because I want to investigate the construction of renting tenants as failures, underserving, and even unamerican in order to help my reader understand why redevelopment of public housing and the subsequent purging of tenants from affordable options became the only possibility for many lawmakers.
From my initial immersion in the discourses surrounding tenants and low income renting, it appears as if this redefining of homeownership as central to the American Dream was a discourse spoken into truth by actors in positions of power, most often within the government. As such I have looked, at least for now, primarily to speeches given by Presidents, politicians, and other figures of power who have engaged in such a discussion of homeownership.
The first primary source of note is President Hoover’s 1931 Message to the Annual Convention of Building and Loan Associations. Although this text does not explicitly mention the American Dream, Hoover expresses that “home ownership is more than just the provision of domiciles; it goes to the root of family life, public morals, and standard of living.” Here, home ownership is imbued with meaning beyond just the physical control of a structure on private property, but instead, the possession of a home is represented as a signifier of a more general possession of the social/familial values deemed positive by Hoover.
The second primary source comes almost 70 years later, from then HUD Secretary Andrew Cuomo’s presentation of the HOVE VI Grant program to the city of Atlanta. In the speech, he contends:
Change is the entire dynamic of a family in a neighborhood. Own your own home, invest in your own home. That’s the American dream. You never heard anyone say, “The American Dream, to rent your own home.” No, the American Dream is to own your home. Make that part of the public housing experience. And most of all remember that public housing was just a physical structure, but the real gift was the gift of advancement. Get the education, get the training, and get the services into public housing so people can improve themselves and their families. Because that was the dream.
Cuomo’s speech contains a much more explicit connection between the American Dream and homeownership. In that connection are echoes of Hoover’s speech, as each imbues the concept of owning home with a form of social value. But Cuomo also defines what the American Dream is not: renting. And in that statement lends itself to an idea present in this discourse that there is a social and moral difference between renting and owning. One that I hope to explore further in the coming week.
One next step I have identified is moving beyond discourses about the concept of homeownership (or lack thereof) alone, but rather the discourse about people who do not own a home and discern the interaction and connections between those discourses.
Cuomo, Andrew. “Presentation of HOPE VI Grant to The City of Atlanta by Secretary Andrew Cuomo” U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Archives. https://archives.hud.gov/remarks/cuomo/speeches/atlhope.cfm (Accessed: November 10, 2019).
Hoover, Herbert. Herbert Hoover: Containing the Public Messages, Speeches, and Statements of the President, 1931. (Washington: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1974).
 Herbert Hoover. Herbert Hoover: Containing the Public Messages, Speeches, and Statements of the President, 1931. (Washington: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1974), 293.
 Andrew Cuomo. “Presentation of HOPE VI Grant to The City of Atlanta by Secretary Andrew Cuomo” U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Archives. https://archives.hud.gov/remarks/cuomo/speeches/atlhope.cfm (Accessed: November 10, 2019).
The dependent variable for my small-n research design is the degree of protection that state laws governing renting and eviction provide tenants. So far, I have identified the subsection of codes in D.C., South Carolina, and Texas that govern those related topics. While these three states may not be the exact cases I would choose if I were to go through with this research method, they do demonstrate significant variation in tenant protections. D.C.’s code provides a number of specific protections for tenants including 30 days notice to vacate for nonpayment, preventions from tenants being evicted in freezing weather, resources from the Chief Tenant Advocate to appeal an eviction decision. In contrast, both South Carolina and Texas only provide tenants with a 3-day notice to vacate for nonpayment, and weaker protections for tenants looking to appeal landlord decisions.
These different areas of protection, or lack thereof, start to lend themselves to some general questions I could ask of any set of eviction/renting codes. What is the length of time required between notice of nonpayment and filing of a lawful detainer suit? Are their restrictions on when (seasonal, weather, etc.) a tenant can be evicted? Are landlords responsible for storing the property of a unit and, if so, for how long? The answers to those questions can help me determine whether states have high, moderate, or low levels of tenant protection, which will likely be the possible values for my dependent variable. When I actually go about choosing cases for the research design I might want to mirror Saunders’ approach, choosing states with different levels of protection while trying my best to hold other variables like region or political climate constant.
“§ 42–3505.01. Evictions.,” Council of the District of Columbia. https://code.dccouncil.us/dc/council/code/sections/42-3505.01.html (Accessed: October 27, 2019).
“PROPERTY CODE TITLE 4. ACTIONS AND REMEDIES CHAPTER 24. FORCIBLE ENTRY AND DETAINER,” Texas Constitution and Statutes https://statutes.capitol.texas.gov/Docs/PR/htm/PR.24.htm (Accessed October 27, 2019).
Saunders, Elizabeth. “Transformative Choices: Leaders and the Origins of Intervention Strategy,” International Security 34, no. 2 (Fall, 2019). https://www.jstor.org/stable/40389215?seq=1#metadata_info_tab_contents (Accessed: October 20, 2019).
“Title 27 – Property and Conveyances,” South Carolina Legislature. https://www.scstatehouse.gov/code/t27c040.php (Accessed: October 27, 2019).
 “§ 42–3505.01. Evictions.,” Council of the District of Columbia. https://code.dccouncil.us/dc/council/code/sections/42-3505.01.html (Accessed: October 27, 2019).
 For South Carolina code see “Title 27 – Property and Conveyances,” South Carolina Legislature. https://www.scstatehouse.gov/code/t27c040.php (Accessed: October 27, 2019). For Texas code see “PROPERTY CODE TITLE 4. ACTIONS AND REMEDIES CHAPTER 24. FORCIBLE ENTRY AND DETAINER,” Texas Constitution and Statutes https://statutes.capitol.texas.gov/Docs/PR/htm/PR.24.htm (Accessed October 27, 2019).
 Elizabeth Saunders, “Transformative Choices: Leaders and the Origins of Intervention Strategy,” International Security 34, no. 2 (Fall, 2019), https://www.jstor.org/stable/40389215?seq=1#metadata_info_tab_contents (Accessed: October 20, 2019).
I am proposing to research urban displacement because I want to find out why patterns of eviction in cities become spatially concentrated among certain areas in order to help my reader understand the structures responsible for producing the housing (in)stability and precarity of contemporary cities.
While this research problem statement already lends itself to a large-n analysis, further specifying the problem statement to a more specific case: What explains variation in the eviction rates of census block groups in Washington DC.
There are two databases that I am primarily interested in. The first is the list of scheduled evictions released every couple weeks by the Office of the Tenant Advocate which provides the location and scheduled date of evictions throughout Washington DC. The second is the American Community Survey’s 1-year estimates for 2019 demographic data, which provides the most updated demographic characteristics for census tracts and block groups in Washington DC. Much of that demographic data – ie average income, median rent, race – will be used as my control variables. For my independent variable, I am planning on creating a gentrification index that will be determined with that demographic data (though how exactly I am doing that I am still figuring out).
The scheduled eviction report provides the data that I will use for my dependent variable of eviction rate. Unfortunately, right now, that report does not show actual rates, but rather the list of the hundreds of evictions that were scheduled between August and November. To turn them into eviction rates I will have to geocode the addresses in the spreadsheet into a coordinate system that can then be input into GIS. Then I will be able to tell the number of evictions from that dataset that fall within each block group, allowing me to determine an eviction rate for each block group (% of renter-occupied homes that received an eviction in a block group over a set period of time, typically one year).
“2018 ACS 1-year Data Profiles,” United States Census Bureau. (Washington, D.C.: GPO: August 29, 2019) https://data.census.gov/cedsci/table?d=&table=DP02&tid=ACSDP1Y2018.DP02&lastDisplayedRow=22&hidePreview=true&q= (Accessed: October 11, 2019).
“Scheduled Evictions,” Office of the Tenant Advocate. (Washington, D.C.: GPO, n.d.), https://ota.dc.gov/page/scheduled-evictions (Accessed: September 29, 2019).
 “Scheduled Evictions,” Office of the Tenant Advocate. (Washington, D.C.: GPO, n.d.), https://ota.dc.gov/page/scheduled-evictions (Accessed: September 29, 2019).
 “2018 ACS 1-year Data Profiles,” United States Census Bureau. (Washington, D.C.: GPO: August 29, 2019) https://data.census.gov/cedsci/table?d=&table=DP02&tid=ACSDP1Y2018.DP02&lastDisplayedRow=22&hidePreview=true&q= (Accessed: October 11, 2019).
Following the formulation set out by Booth et al.:
- I am proposing to research urban displacement
- … because I want to find out what explains changes in spatial patterns of eviction in cities
- … in order to help my reader understand the structures responsible for producing the housing (in)stability and precarity of contemporary cities.
The second part of this formulation, which constitutes the puzzle itself, has (as to be expected) evolved over the past couple weeks as I have become more acquainted the literature on urban displacement. Notably, while I initially thought I might simply look to discover what explains the spatial patterns of eviction in cities, I have since added the notion of changes in patterns of eviction as the primary focus of my inquiry. The importance of this distinction becomes quite apparent when examining the existing literature, which has already extensively studied the phenomena of eviction itself, its effects on health, and its general spatial characteristics. This is not to say that there are not debates over those subjects, but rather I believe that the more meaningful debates in this literature exist around those factors that cause displacement patterns to change over time and space, in which there is much less consensus.
Take, for instance, the work by Sònia Vives-Miró, Jesús M. González-Pérez, and Onofre Rullan, who examine the increase in home dispossession of tenants and owners in Palma, Spain between 2003 and 2012. Their analysis points to the housing crisis in 2008 as the primary cause for the spikes in displacement that effected both lower and middle-income residents. Yet where their research examines foreclosure and eviction together, Taylor Shelton’s research attempts to shift the “general emphasis within American housing policy on the needs and interests of homeowners rather” to those of renters by distinguishing patterns of displacement occurring among tenants and those occurring among homeowners. While this shift has larger implications for urban studies, which I will discuss momentarily, that distinction allows Shelton to reveal three curious phenomena from which my puzzle arises.
- First that “the number of evictions fluctuating only slightly from year-to-year while foreclosures have plummeted to pre-crisis levels.”
- Second, that “foreclosure rates tend to be much more determined by variables measuring racial and class segregation than eviction rates, though evictions tend to be much more spatially concentrated.”
- Third, that those places continuously experiencing “high concentrations of both eviction and foreclosure – are not inner city neighborhoods experiencing gentrification pressures, but rather inner-ring suburban areas that have become increasingly impoverished and marginalized in recent years.”
These findings seem counterintuitive to what I would have expected from the assumptions that I was operating under when I began this process. It seems ‘logical’ to me that eviction patterns would, in fact, be tied to the process of gentrification considering the rent hikes, conversion of multifamily housing into condos, and landlords selling affordable housing to redevelopment schemes that might accompany an influx of wealthier residents, and, because of that, fluctuate significantly based on whether a neighborhood was gentrifying or not. Moreover, I would expect that process seemed inherently racialized, and much of the literature I have read has found correlations between high rates of eviction and race and class segregation.
This shift to focus on tenants has also been reflective in the stories, firsthand accounts, and other primary sources that have been shared/foregrounded by housing advocacy organizations. Those stories also serve as a good transition to the third part of Booth et al.’s formulation and the question of why my reader should care about my research. The accounts of evictions I have sat with over the past weeks have been some of the most heart-wrenching stories I have ever read. Mathew Desmond’s website has a page dedicated for tenants to share stories of their evictions. Most are left semi-anonymously, like an account from Lindsay of Cincinnati, Ohio, who is currently facing eviction and fears for the wellbeing of her 3-year-old son. Other stories, like that of Alaina Leary and the strife she and her father went through when he was evicted, get picked up by news organizations that have become more interested in stories of tenants.
And while those stories are (of course) incredibly important to hear, I also want a reader to understand the forces behind displacement. Moreover, I believe it is even more important to expand the discussion of tenants’ experience because the physical removal of one’s body through displacement and eviction is often accompanied by the removal of agency, certainty, and access to one’s story being heard. That double removal makes eviction an incredibly pressing topic that demands more research and more readers.
Potential Research Questions
- What explains changes in spatial patterns of eviction?
- What explains the changes in patterns of eviction in Washington D.C. between 1970 and the present?
Desmond, Matthew. “Eviction and the Reproduction of Urban Poverty.” American Journal of Sociology 118, no. 1 (2012): 88–133. https://doi.org/10.1086/666082 (Accessed: September 12, 2019).
Gutiérrez, Aaron, and Xavier Delclòs. “The Uneven Distribution of Evictions as New Evidence of Urban Inequality: A Spatial Analysis Approach in Two Catalan Cities.” Cities 56 (July 2016): 101–8. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cities.2016.04.007 (Accessed: September 29, 2019).
Leary, Alaina. “This Is What No One Tells You About Being Evicted.” HuffPost, December 26, 2018. https://www.huffpost.com/entry/being-evicted-from-your-home_n_5c1d33c8e4b05c88b6f885a9 (Accessed: September 28, 2019).
Shelton, Taylor. “Mapping Dispossession: Eviction, Foreclosure and the Multiple Geographies of Housing Instability in Lexington, Kentucky.” Geoforum 97 (December 1, 2018): 281–91. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.geoforum.2018.09.028 (Accessed: September 20, 2019).
V, Lindsay. “Eviction Stories: Lindsay V.” Just Shelter, March 24, 2019. https://justshelter.org/2019/03/24/lindsay-v/ (Accessed: September 29, 2019).
Vásquez-Vera, Hugo, Laia Palència, Ingrid Magna, Carlos Mena, Jaime Neira, and Carme Borrell. “The Threat of Home Eviction and Its Effects on Health through the Equity Lens: A Systematic Review.” Social Science & Medicine 175 (2017): 199–208. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.socscimed.2017.01.010 (Accessed: September 27, 2019).
Vives-Miró, Sònia, Jesús M. González-Pérez, and Onofre Rullan. “Home Dispossession: The Uneven Geography of Evictions in Palma (Majorca).” DIE ERDE – Journal of the Geographical Society of Berlin 146, no. 2–3 (September 30, 2015): 113–26 https://www.die-erde.org/index.php/die-erde/article/view/211/110 (Accessed: September 21, 2019).
 See Hugo Vásquez-Vera et al., “The Threat of Home Eviction and Its Effects on Health through the Equity Lens: A Systematic Review,” Social Science & Medicine 175 (2017): 206, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.socscimed.2017.01.010 (Accessed: September 27, 2019) for an analysis of the health effects of eviction and see Aaron Gutiérrez and Xavier Delclòs, “The Uneven Distribution of Evictions as New Evidence of Urban Inequality: A Spatial Analysis Approach in Two Catalan Cities,” Cities 56 (July 2016): 107, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cities.2016.04.007 (Accessed: September, 26 2019) for a discussion of general spatial patterns of evictions.
 Sònia Vives-Miró, Jesús M. González-Pérez, and Onofre Rullan, “Home Dispossession: The Uneven Geography of Evictions in Palma (Majorca),” DIE ERDE – Journal of the Geographical Society of Berlin 146, no. 2–3 (September 30, 2015): 124 https://www.die-erde.org/index.php/die-erde/article/view/211/110 (Accessed: September 21, 2019).
 Taylor Shelton, “Mapping Dispossession: Eviction, Foreclosure and the Multiple Geographies of Housing Instability in Lexington, Kentucky,” Geoforum 97 (December 1, 2018): 281 https://doi.org/10.1016/j.geoforum.2018.09.028 (Accessed: September 20, 2019). Also worth noting that while Sònia Vives-Miró, Jesús M. González-Pérez, and Onofre Rullan are Spanish urban scholars, Shelton’s critique of American housing literature is still applicable.
 See both Matthew Desmond, “Eviction and the Reproduction of Urban Poverty,” American Journal of Sociology 118, no. 1 (2012): 88–133, https://doi.org/10.1086/666082 (Accessed: September 12, 2019) and Gutiérrez and Delclòs, “The Uneven Distribution of Evictions as New Evidence of Urban Inequality.”
 Lindsay V, “Eviction Stories: Lindsay V,” Just Shelter, March 24, 2019, https://justshelter.org/2019/03/24/lindsay-v/ (Accessed: September 29, 2019).
 Alaina Leary, “This Is What No One Tells You About Being Evicted,” HuffPost, December 26, 2018, https://www.huffpost.com/entry/being-evicted-from-your-home_n_5c1d33c8e4b05c88b6f885a9 (Accessed: September 28, 2019).
One of the initial divides I am seeing among urban displacement scholars is around the question of what forces direct socialization, and, specifically, spatial organization and movement in cities. The two pieces I have chosen to analyze, one by Lance Freeman and the other by Amanda Hammar, provide a brief window into one aspect of that debate. Freeman launches into a strictly neopositivist analysis, using data on the movement of heads of households over several decades to devise a statistical test to determine whether “preexisting residents of gentrifying neighborhoods are more likely to move/be displaced when residing in gentrifying neighborhoods.”
Hammar, in contrast, pushes beyond the “literal, physical movement of bodies” to examine socio-legal, symbolic, and existential movements that occur in the process of displacement and resettlement. Hammar accomplishes this analysis via a five-year ethnographic study of squatter-settlements in Mazwi, Zimbabwe, directing the paper’s focus on the amorphous categories of meaning/becoming that accompany the transition from “recurring disruption, removal, and uncertainty to a condition of settledness and seeming certainty.”
However, the obvious divergence between the methodologies of these two studies obscures what I think is the more interesting difference between them. Freeman concludes seeing gentrification as a benign process (his statistical test failed to find a correlation between gentrification and displacement) and looks to market forces as bringing “increased investment and middleclass household to formerly forlorn neighborhoods.” Hammar, rejects this centering of the market, and contends that urban systems are explained by more “messy realities of such multiplicity and relationality.”
This question of what force underlies city organization is one my research will have to grapple with in order to position itself within the existing displacement literature. Is that force the market, as Freeman seems to allude. Or is it a complex set of contextually specific meanings, as Hammar points to. Or maybe that driving force is something else: class relations between working-class tenant and landlords; an equilibrium similar to that of an ecosystem; or racialization codified in segregation and redlining. In any case, I am beginning to discern some of the broad camps within my topic area.
Freeman, Lance. “Displacement or Succession?: Residential Mobility in Gentrifying Neighborhoods,” Urban Affairs Review 40, no. 4 (March 1, 2005), 463–491. https://doi.org/10.1177/1078087404273341 (Accessed: September 18, 2019).
Hammar, Amanda. “Urban Displacement and Resettlement in Zimbabwe: The Paradoxes of Propertied Citizenship.” African Studies Review 60, no. 3 (2017): 81–104. http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/asr.2017.123 (Accessed: September 17, 2019).
 Lance Freeman. “Displacement or Succession?: Residential Mobility in Gentrifying Neighborhoods,” Urban Affairs Review 40, no. 4 (March 1, 2005), 476, https://doi.org/10.1177/1078087404273341 (Accessed: September 18, 2019).
 Amanda Hammar. “Urban Displacement and Resettlement in Zimbabwe: The Paradoxes of Propertied Citizenship,” African Studies Review 60, no. 3 (2017), 95, http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/asr.2017.123 (Accessed: September 17, 2019).
 Freeman, 488.
 Hammar, 99.
For me, understanding ontology and methodology has been easiest when I can examine the debates that interpretivist and positivists have over those concepts. Positivists, in attempting to apply the tenants of natural science to the social world, believe that socialization is governed by universal, stable rules, and if they can research enough, they will be able to uncover the nature of those rules. Important for the ontological debate is not how they discover those rules, but rather that they believe those universal rules exist in the first place. For Interpretivist, however, the social world is fundamentally different than the natural world. What exists to be studied, then, are the contexts and situations in which social phenomena occur.
Their debate over methodology derives directly from that ontological question of what exists to be studied. Because positivists are attempting to discover rules for social life, they utilize a set of research practices and choices – a methodology – that allows them to generalize claims about the nature of phenomena. Statistical analysis (Large-n) and case studies (Small-n) are two methodologies that serve that end. Interpretivists, however, use a completely different set of research practices and choices when trying to discern the contexts that are important for how people experience reality and formulate meaning.
Within these broad debates, I am beginning to fall more within the positivist camp. While I am still hesitant to say one can be a perfectly objective observer of the social world, I think one can be a meaningfully objective observer of the social world. That is to say, that while one has biases that influence their research, the process of operationalizing variables (hopefully) removes those biases from having a meaningful effect on the conclusions a positivist is pursuing. And because the conclusions of positivist research are supposed to be decontextualized both from the scenario being analyzed and our own positionality as a researcher, other positivist researchers can more easily repurpose pieces of one research paper to utilize for another. In class, we explored this idea a bit during the discussion of the Edelstein reading when discussed that whether or not one agrees with the conclusion Edelstein makes does not mean that the specific way that Edelstein defines success of an occupation cannot be incredibly useful to another researcher.
However, I am drawn to the interpretivist field of research’s focus on structures of power. While, positivists want to make knowledge claims about broad, governing rules of social life, I want to bring positivist methodologies to bear on observable patterns that expose structures of power. For example, if I were to ask the question why landlords employ non-formal (i.e. not repairing amenities) methods over formal methods (i.e. evictions) to force tenants out of their homes, I might try to define and operationalize variables that are related to the power dynamic between tenant and landlord. While that example remains, admittedly, abstract, I hope over the coming weeks I can start to fill out what ways of creating those kinds of variables/questions might be.
 Andrew Abbott. Methods of Discovery: Heuristics for the Social Sciences. (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2004), 43.
 Paul Kellstedt and Guy D. Whitten. The Fundamentals of Political Science Research. (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2018), 9.
 David Edelstein, “Occupational Hazards,” Journal of Urban Economics 56, no. 2 (2004), <https://www.mitpressjournals.org/doi/pdf/10.1162/0162288041762913> (Accessed: September 15, 2019).
Abbott, Andrew. Methods of Discovery: Heuristics for the Social Sciences. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2004.
Edelstein, David. “Occupational Hazards.” Journal of Urban Economics 56, no. 2 (2004): 49-91. <https://www.mitpressjournals.org/doi/pdf/10.1162/0162288041762913> (Accessed: September 15, 2019).
Kellstedt, Paul and Guy D. Whitten. The Fundamentals of Political Science Research. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2018.
Dean Gallaher and I met on Tuesday, September 10th from 4-5pm.
After a brief introduction and discussion of my broad research interests, Dean Gallaher and I spent a majority of our conversation working to generate the kinds of questions I could be asking about forced movement in urban settings. Some of those questions we discussed were: What strategies are landlords using to force residents to move outside of just evictions and why do landlords pursue these informal strategies? What explains spatial patterns of climate vulnerability in cities? Why are some tenant organizations successful and others not? This list is not exhaustive of the questions we generated but more importantly it has helped me start thinking about more specific empirical phenomena I am interested in explaining.
Another point of discussion was whether there was a specific city I would prefer to do research on/in. We concluded that researching D.C. would give me some unique opportunities in 306 – if I was to carry out ethnographic research – to actually go into the field and conduct in-person interviews. She also recommended that if I move forward with that focus on D.C. I familiarize myself with, one, a history of D.C, two, D.C.’s housing code, and three, what and how D.C. reports data on housing related issues (housing code violations specifically).
She also gave me some particular terms of art to use as I search for articles for a literature review. Her main recommendation was to look at the field of urban ecology and find a selection of studies with a variety of methodologies so I could get an idea of how ethnography/case studies/statistical analysis are commonly done in urban contexts.
Moving forward I have two main goals for the next couple weeks. First, keep reading – but move away from long books that are going to take me weeks to read – and find briefer articles so I can better grasp the range of literature that exists in urban ecology. And second, start searching through D.C.’s (and maybe other cities’) government websites to try to see what data they publish, if I might need to send emails requesting that data (I’ve already sent a couple), and where other databases of relevant information might be.
Two distinct developments over the course of the last academic year helped inspire my research interest (and, more generally, my academic interests). The first was the final project in a course co-taught by Professor Esser and Professor David Pike on transnational migration and the urban experience in Washington, D.C. That project, which I would consider my first ‘real’ exposure to a research process, consisted of a basic quantitative analysis of the connection between demographic change and eviction trends in Washington D.C. The other was my growing interest in environmental ethics and environmental racism developed initially in my first-year SIS seminar with Professor Paul Wapner, and now in the Environmental Sustainability and Public Health Gateway with Professor Malini Ranganathan.
Together, urban studies, housing policy especially, and critical environmental studies make up my primary research interests, with a focus, for now, on the structures that coerce/force people into particular living conditions in and around cities. Matthew Desmond’s work that posits access to housing as a crucial requirement for any attempt at addressing poverty in America has been very central to how relevant I think this topic is to broader questions of social justice.
A couple of puzzles have stuck with me in my initial exposure to this topic. When I gathered data on evictions in Washington, D.C. in Professor Esser’s class last fall, I utilized the database from the Eviction Lab at Princeton University. However, publishing eviction data is tricky, especially when ensuring those datasets do not become tools of the real estate industry to further discriminatory housing practices. This fact, as well as a host of other problems with Eviction Lab data, leaves me struggling with not just how to gather housing data, but also the ethical dilemmas surrounding the protection of tenants during housing policy research.
Additionally, much of the readings I have done have examined case studies rooted in histories of housing segregation specific to the United States. A question that I am particularly interested in, especially as I begin to think more about studying abroad, is how to take insights drawn from studies of U.S. cities and translate them into useful tools for analyzing urban areas with contexts and histories vastly different to those of American cities.
Aiello, Daniela, Lisa Bates, Terra Graziani, Christopher Herring, Manissa Maharawal, Erin McElroy, Pamela Phan, and Gretchen Purser. “Eviction Lab Misses the Mark,” Shelterforce, August 22, 2018. https://shelterforce.org/2018/08/22/eviction-lab-misses-the-mark (Accessed: September 1, 2019).
Desmond, Matthew. “Americans Want to Believe Jobs Are the Solution to Poverty. They’re Not,” The New York Times, September 11, 2018. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/09/11/magazine/americans-jobs-poverty-homeless.html (Accessed: August 31, 2019).
Desmond, Matthew. Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City. New York: Crown, 2016.
 Matthew Desmond, Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City (New York: Crown, 2016). Also discussed more briefly in Matthew Desmond, “Americans Want to Believe Jobs Are the Solution to Poverty. They’re Not,” The New York Times, September 11, 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/09/11/magazine/americans-jobs-poverty-homeless.html (Accessed: 31 August 2019).
 Daniela Aiello et al., “Eviction Lab Misses the Mark,” Shelterforce, August 22, 2018, https://shelterforce.org/2018/08/22/eviction-lab-misses-the-mark (Accessed: 1 September 2019).