Graduate Student Fernando Calderon Figueroa, first time, first-author: “The Dilemmas of Spatializing Social Issues”

July 13, 2022 by Hongyi Li

Sociology Ph.D. candidate Fernando A. Calderón Figueroa’s paper titled "The Dilemmas of Spatializing Social Issues" was recently published in Socius: Sociological Research for a Dynamic World. This is Fernando’s first, first-author publication, co-authored with Professor Dan Silver and fellow PhD student Olimpia Bidian, all from the UofT Department of Sociology.

Their article explores the unwanted consequences of spatializing social issues and spatially targeted policies. The study examines the case of the Toronto Strong Neighbourhoods Strategy, which aims to help vulnerable inner suburban Toronto neighborhoods where support is most needed. The program proceeded by “spatializing” the social issues or, in other words, by systematically defining neighborhoods and their boundaries to identify the most disadvantaged among them. The purpose is to promote positive changes within the communities. The Toronto program established 13 priority areas with the aim of attracting investment from the private sector as well as engagement from senior levels of government and community residents. “The Dilemmas of Spatializing Social Issues” addresses how the planning decisions and spatially targeted policies affected neighborhood trajectories over time beyond the policymakers’ original intentions. In their research, the authors explore the unwanted consequences of spatialization and found evidence showing significant adverse effects. They propose that a sociological conception of neighborhoods sensitizes us to the potential consequences of imposing categorical divisions onto a largely continuous urban space. In their article, the authors specify three steps. First, they argue that designations affect people’s behavior toward target neighborhoods. Second, the heterogeneity within official boundaries may lead to informational distortion, for example, disadvantaged areas are denied benefits solely because of location. And third, designations may generate negative reputations for targeted areas or extend existing stigma to new areas. To read the full article follow this link to Sage Journals.

About the authors:

Fernando Figueroa is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Sociology at University of Toronto. His main interests are urban and political sociology, social policy, and quantitative and computational methods. Before Fernando joined University of Toronto in 2015, he worked for the Peruvian government developing policy-oriented data on political engagement, local communities, and indigenous peoples. Fernando is also a member of the Urban Genome Project, where he conducts interdisciplinary research on urban social policy and neighborhood change.

Dan Silver is an Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Toronto. His specialty focus areas include urban theory; social theory; neighborhoods; arts and culture; urban evolution; urban politics; urban culture. Professor Silver is the recipient of two American Sociological Association (ASA) awards: the 2013 Theory Prize and the 2017 Consumers and Consumption Section Distinguished Scholarly Publication Award (with Kristie O'Neill). He also received an honorable mention for the ASA 2015 Junior Theorist Award (with Kristie O'Neill). Silver is also a core participant in the Urban Genome Project.

Olimpia Bidian is a Ph.D. Student in the Sociology Department at the University of Toronto. Her research interests focus on urban planning, urban policy, and the social life of public spaces. Her Ph.D. thesis examines how public space identity is being shaped by diverse stakeholders and the multitude of uses people construct over time. The objectives are to identify the most important components and dimensions of public space identity formation and to provide a theoretical model of the emerging identity of public spaces.