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1A spatially integrated approach to social


science research
Robert J. Stimson

INTRODUCTION
For the last couple of decades there has been a marked growth in literature
that promotes the notion of a spatially integrated social science (SISS).1
That includes a pioneering paper by Goodchild et al. (2000) in which the
authors outlined the emergence of interest in space and place in the social
sciences and proposed a vision for a SISS, and a major book edited by
Goodchild and Janelle (2004a).
The emergence of an explicitly spatially integrated approach in social
science research reflects an increasing recognition that space, spacetime
and place are important considerations in understanding the complex
changes occurring in contemporary society. These changes impact unevenly on both people and places. This recognizes that peoples lives are
connected with others, that they live in a space and place context, and that
that may change over time. And it recognizes that people occupy a range
of social settings, which may be conceptualized as generalized network
structures embedded within social space, where proximity within that
space may be geographical, relational or place specific.
A spatially integrated approach in the social sciences thus explicitly
recognizes the key role that geographical (or spatial) concepts such as
distance, distribution, location, proximity, connectivity, place, neighbourhood and region play in human society and the behaviour of individuals,
groups and organizations. It certainly promotes research that advances
the understanding of spatial patterns and processes; and it invokes powerful principles of spatial thinking.
Not only does SISS represent a set of theoretical and philosophical
paradigms, it also provides a kit-bag of tools and techniques for the collection and analysis and modelling of data. Collectively these:

provide new perspectives on social phenomena and on human


behaviours;
provide new vehicles for innovation, synthesis and integration
across the social and behavioural sciences;
13

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14 A spatially integrated social science approach



facilitate cross-disciplinary and interdisciplinary team research; and


enhance the evidence base to better inform policy formulation, programme implementation and business decisions.

The development of SISS theories, methods and tools has been enhanced
in particular through the spectacular proliferation of geographic information systems (GIS) technologies. As stated by Goodchild and Janelle
(2004b: 1011), a modern GIS contains functions for the creation, acquisition, editing, and storage of geographic information; for query, analysis,
and modelling; and for visual display, report generation, and other forms
of output.
GIS enhance the process of conducting research by readily facilitating
the following:

the integration of diverse and complex information using existing


data sets;
the generation of new synthetic data sets;
the incorporation of spatial concepts into statistical analysis and
modelling; and
the building of spatial decision support systems (SDSS).
The last point above is especially important as SISS research tools can
help governments and business to develop more appropriate strategies
to better address the needs of people and places in a regional or national
context in achieving a sustainable, prosperous and just society, with an
improved quality of life for people.
This chapter provides a context for considering the evolution of a SISS
approach. It commences with a discussion in which it is suggested that
an explicitly spatial approach in social science research requires socio-
spatial theory taking account of how space manifests itself. It outlines
how that requires a new meta-paradigm. The chapter goes on to show
how this has seen the development of explicit theories, methods, tools
and techniques that are used in SISS analysis. It also provides a brief
discussion of the research process and some of the issues that might be of
concern in conducting SISS research. It is pointed out that the purpose
of research is fundamentally about seeking explanation, and that the
scientific model of investigation does this through testing theories by
collecting and analysing data in operationalizing models, and that in
taking a SISS approach in conducting research that necessitates spatializing data.

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A spatially integrated approach15

AN EXPLICITLY SPATIAL APPROACH IN


RESEARCH: TOWARDS A SOCIO-SPATIAL THEORY
Research in general is about generating new information to improve our
understanding about social and economic phenomena, events and situations and human behaviours, and to help explain their occurrence.
As pointed out by Goodchild and Janelle (2004b: 3): different disciplines pose different research questions and have different traditions of
analysis. In discussing the emergence of a SISS approach, they argue that:
a spatial perspective provides a common thread based on methods of
descriptive and exploratory analysis (p. 3). Space, spacetime and place
certainly provide a framework for the organization and the operation of
society. Most importantly they provide the situational context in which
human behaviour occurs and decision-making takes place. Thus, space
may be seen as a social and a behavioural construct. Recent thinking is
reconceptualizing spatial scales, building broader understanding of their
construction as outcomes of political and social processes and not just
as geometric givens which had been the more traditional focus in spatial
theory.
The Manifestation of Space
As discussed by Amedeo et al. (2009) in their book PersonEnvironment
Behavior Research: Investigating Activities and Experiences in Spaces and
Environments: the significance of space in the human context is exemplified
in many different ways, ranging all the way from its most dominant role as
a structuring dimension in society to its presence as a region of the brain
enabling an individual to conceptualise about the world spatially (p. 5).
Space and/or the manifestation of space in its more involved and complex
form as in an operational environment such as a nation and its regions,
or within a city tends to amplify the conceptual and methodological difficulties that are commonly faced in social science research. As noted by
Amedeo et al. (2009), that is the case especially in dealing with humans and
their behaviours in spatial settings and with their experiences of those settings. They point out that to actively include space as an integral part of an
investigation into social science research particularly research investigating socio-economic phenomena and human issues frequently introduces
often severe methodological and conceptual complexities in analysis, and
may also aggravate existing complexities in the problem context itself.
Nevertheless, the question about the relevance and importance of
explicitly considering space in research dealing with socio-economic phenomena and with human activities and experiences is a significant one

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16 A spatially integrated social science approach


because it relates heavily to the nature of understanding if such influences
were not considered. This was pointed out clearly by Goodchild and
Janelle (2004b) who show how the organisation of information in spatial
and non-spatial formats yields different interpretations, and that failure
to include locational information can shortchange our interpretations of
social processes (p. 3).
A SISS Meta-Paradigm
The rethinking of existing disciplinarily based paradigms into a meta-
paradigm of SSIS presents challenges for the formulation of innovative
theoretical constructs and conceptualization of SISS approaches that
incorporates explicitly spatial concepts in the study of social, economic
and behavioural phenomena. It is suggested by Amedeo et al. (2009) that
that might include giving consideration to the following:





how to incorporate concepts such as spatial scale, shape, surface,


diversity, location, proximity and connectedness;
how to measure space;
addressing what is the meaning of place;
analysing behaviour(s) in space, spacetime and place(s);
investigating the cognition and perception of space; and
contemplating what are the constraints of various notions of space,
such as social space.

The various forms of spatial presence in human contexts can be immense,


and we may see it manifest in a multitude of ways, including:




the existence and evolution of inter-regional differences in the incidence of socio-economic phenomena;
the nature and complexity of interpersonal relationships and human
interactions such as through networks;
the nature and complexity of human behaviours and experiences in
spaces and places;
human perceptions and cognitions of space and place; and
the numerous situational circumstances or environments within
which activities take place, and events occur.

Indeed as Amedeo et al. (2009: 8) discuss, spatial analysis explores many


explicit topics including:

spatially oriented behaviour in movement and/or way-finding;


spatially influenced experiences, as in affective responses and reactive responses in and to surroundings;

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A spatially integrated approach17









physical and behavioural expressions of space in socio-cultural


systems;
spatial cognition and/or the processes associated with representation in environmental perceptions;
processes of social exchange and corresponding norms influential in
spacing;
spatial choice and decision-making;
the role of space in the composition of place formation;
spatial learning;
spatial networks; and
spatial economics.

The following five key questions might need to be addressed in the


context of a meta-paradigm for a spatially integrated approach in the
social sciences:
1. What are the ways to relate understandings of spatial scale and relationship in a spacetime context as a social-spatial construct to conventionally scaled data, maps and frames of analysis?
2. What are the roles of space and place in underpinning societal organizations, as in, for example, constructing capital, community and household relations, and personenvironmentbehaviour interactions?
3. How do the processes of governance and regulation produce and steer
socio-economic and behavioural processes, and what are the consequent efficiencies, contests and tensions in outcomes?
4. How do network connections and interactional flows, and the generation of corresponding concepts and metaphors, have implications for
data configuration needs and for identifying appropriate scales for
data gathering and analysis?
5. How do the applications of SISS initiatives inform spatially defined
public policy initiatives, and in addressing the behavioural impacts of
changing perceptions of spatiality?

THEORY, MODELS, METHODS, TOOLS AND


TECHNIQUES
The pursuit of research arising out of the socio-spatial approach discussed above has necessarily led to the development theories, models
and methods, tools and techniques for the application and testing of
models that are explicitly spatial. Goodchild and Janelle (2004b) say that
a spatially specific theory might be defined as: a theory whose outcomes

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18 A spatially integrated social science approach


depend on the locations of the objects that are the focus of the theory ...
[and that] one or more spatial concepts, such as distance, location, connectivity, adjacency, or direction, must appear in the theory (p. 10). They
cite the spatial interaction model in geography as an example. They point
out that that a model is spatially specific when it differentiates behaviours
and predictions according to spatial location (p. 10).
Explicitly spatial methodologies, tools and techniques have tended to be
derived largely from the disciplines of geography and regional science. But
all social science disciplines generate methodologies, tools and techniques
that may be applied in the context of space, spacetime and place analyses.
Seeking Explanation
In general a SISS approach to conducting research is firmly embedded
in the scientific paradigm. In that context, as discussed by Amedeo et al.
(2009), the research process is essentially about generating information
to further our understanding about phenomena, events and situations to
explain why, where, when and how those things occur. Explanation is thus
a fundamental objective in undertaking research using the scientific mode
of enquiry. Explanation is required for knowledge advancement (learning),
it is a base for constructive thinking, and it is used for knowledge accumulation. Furthermore, the objective may be to make predictions from
the current and past data about future states relating to the things being
investigated.
In taking a SISS approach to conducting research, space becomes a
crucial factor in seeking explanation through modelling to test theories.
However, Goodchild and Janelle (2004b) remind us that: it is not at all
clear that space can actually explain, or whether the spatial concepts that
appear in a spatially explicit theory are not merely surrogates for something else (p. 10). This is an important point and was emphasized long ago
by authors such as geographer David Harvey (1969).
Using Models to Test Theories
In the pursuit of explanation, fundamental to undertaking research in
general and not just SISS research is the generation, acquisition and
use of information and data appropriate for testing theories. That typically is undertaken by developing and operationalizing models (which are
discussed in some detail in Chapter 4 in this volume) through the application of mathematical and statistical tools and techniques to investigate
phenomena. In the context of a SISS approach to undertaking research,
that necessitates the design and conduct of the research process to explic-

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A spatially integrated approach19


itly place a research investigation in a space, a spacetime and/or a place
context, and to incorporate spatial elements within models.
Using Data
Irrespective of whether or not a researcher is using a SISS approach, the
research process especially for the operationalization of a model may
involve the researcher in:






undertaking secondary data analysis (that is, making use of existing


data);
the use of existing information to generate new data through data
mining and enhancement;
gathering of primary data through surveys and experiments;
integrating diverse data sets;
data warehousing;
data interrogation involving statistical and spatial analysis and
modelling; and
data visualization.

Some key issues that might need to be of concern for the researcher may
include addressing the following:


whether to use qualitative and/or quantitative approaches to information collection and data generation;
having a concern about data quality, validity and reliability;
where primary data is being collected, being concerned about sampling and non-sampling sources of error and bias in survey design
and data collection, particularly in the context of data collection in
spatial settings;
using imputation techniques to establish missing data;
how to benchmark data;
how to generate synthetic estimates through data reduction and
micro-simulation techniques;
how to integrate survey data and non-survey data, including spatial
data; and
how to generate longitudinal data sets and the analysis of longitudinal data.

In undertaking cutting-edge quantitative analysis and modelling of data,


using a SISS approach to conducting research typically might involve the
researcher in the following:

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20 A spatially integrated social science approach

Raw Data

Geospatial
Referenced
Data

Visualization
(representation)

Statistical
Analysis
and
Spatial Analysis

Information

Source:Based on Amedeo et al. (2009: 69).

Figure 1.1Geo-referencing to spatialize data and produce spatial


information



gaining access to diverse data sources;


using sophisticated statistical software packages;
using GIS-enabled tools for data integration and spatial analysis;
employing capability to visualize the data variables used in analysis and modelling, and to display the outputs from analysis and
modelling;
using GIS-enabled tools to integrate diverse data sets; and
building spatial decision support systems.

Spatializing Data
Conducting research using a SISS approach necessitates spatializing data
to produce spatial information. Geographers have long achieved this
using diagrammatic and cartographic reasoning to produce information
from many different types of data sets through the sequences shown in
Figure1.1.
The most powerful of these sequences are visualizations represented in
graphic, diagrammatic, and map or image formats. However some data is
best represented (for some user groups) in tactile, haptic or auditory form.
Geographic information systems (GIS) software provides a powerful tool
for data analysis and information representation of spatial and spatialized
data. The essential preparatory procedure is to ensure that each bit of data
is georeferenced, usually in terms of Cartesian coordinates. Thus, incorporating space as a dimension into data for analysis in a SISS approach
to research may be conceptualized as a spatial data matrix, shown in
Figure1.2. In the matrix z1, z2, ... zk refer to k variables or attributes and
s refers to location. The lower-case symbol on z and s donates an actual
data value and the number inside the parenthesis 1, 2, 3, etc. refers
to the particular case, be it an individual or a spatial unit. Attached to a
case(s) might be a location s(1), s(2), s(3), etc. and the use of the bold
for s indicates that a particular case can contain more than one number
for identifying a spatial location. The insertion of a t in the matrix would
mean the data would also have a temporal reference. As discussed by

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A spatially integrated approach21

Z1 (1)
Z1 (2)

Z2 (1) ... Zk (1)


Z2 (2) ... Zk (2)
.

Z1 (n)

.
.
Z2 (n) ... Zk (n)

S (1)

Case

S (2)
.

Case

.
.
S (n)

1
2
.
.
.

Case

Source:After Haining (2003: 10).

Figure 1.2 The data matrix incorporating a spatial element


Amedeo et al. (2009: 38): The compilation of such a data matrix permits
the digital storage of information and facilitates mathematical manipulation of the matrix and statistical analysis of the data, and in addition it
enables visualization of the data using GIS tools. Furthermore, it permits
aggregation of data, both across cases and across spatial units.
Conceptualizing the Modelling Process Using Spatial Data
Haining (2003: 5859) has proposed the framework in Figure 1.3 as a way
to conceptualize what the modelling process might involve in undertaking
SISS research. It places an emphasis on the quality of the representation of
the real world and the quality of the data (accuracy, validity, completeness, consistency, resolution) that is captured in a model which is operationalized through analysis using the spatial data matrix.
Methodological Issues Encountered when using Spatial Data
In a SISS approach to research, the use of spatial data explicitly gives rise
to a number of key methodological issues that need to be addressed. That
includes the following:
The

modifiable areal unit problem (MAUP).


spatial aggregationdisaggregation problem.
The ecological fallacy.
Population sampling and quasi-experimental designs for collecting
data in spatial settings.
Using path-analytic tools to model intervening or ameliorating
effects between overt behavioural outcomes and measures of attitude
and perception as dependent variables, and socio-spatial objective
phenomena as independent variables.
The

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Selected representation
of Space
Real
World

Conceptualization and
Representation

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22 A spatially integrated social science approach

Data
Matrix

Selected representation
of Time

Selected representation
of Attributes

Model for the Data Matrix

Model Quality

Data Quality

(clarity, precision, completeness,

(accuracy, validity, completeness,

consistency, resolution)

consistency, resolution

Uncertainty of Relationship

Source:Concepts derived from Haining (2003), as presented in Amedeo et al. (2009: 61,
Figure 3.4).

Figure 1.3 From geographic reality to the data matrix


Integrating

spatial dependencies (proximity or spillover effects) into


econometric models, and exploring a range of distance matrices
which may explain those interdependencies.
Extracting from micro-survey data dimensions to match with local
area aggregate data to develop synthetic socio-spatial measures
using micro-simulation techniques.
Measuring spillover effects in spatial contexts using techniques
common in time series econometrics to explore clustering inter-
relationships between regions over time and across space.
Measuring the regional or local effects of periodicities in national
cyclical phenomena, and separating exogenous from endogenous
effects.
Specialized statistical measures for data reduction in large complex
spatial and relational interaction matrices to deal with missing data,
sparseness and compressed cells.

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A spatially integrated approach23


Dynamic,

multi-level analytic tools for the analysis of relational


network structures.
Applying Bayesian smoothing techniques to represent a surface and
derive point and area estimates from generalized statistical data.
Developing and using computational process models of social and
cognitive concepts of space and place.
New tools for matrix analysis and modelling of spatial interaction
data in a dynamic spacetime context with visualization across different levels of scale.
Using geographic information science (GISc) concepts and GIS-
enabled tools for data integration and the visualization of spatially
distributed information.
Tools for defining optimal solutions in allocation or location
modelling.
Methodologies and designs for participatory development of strategies and plans to address space-dependent and place-specific issues.
Developing and applying methodologies to forecast or simulate
future states of socio-spatial phenomena.
Using scenarios to formulate and evaluate potential socio-spatial
futures.

SOME INTRODUCTORY THOUGHTS ON


CONDUCTING SOCIO-SPATIAL RESEARCH
From the discussion so far it should be evident to the reader that once
one introduces spatial considerations into a research investigation things
become somewhat complicated in developing and implementing a research
design and in collecting and analysing data. This is particularly so when
a research investigation involves the collection of primary data to investigate social and behavioural phenomena in a space or place context.
To illustrate some of the complexities that make it difficult to achieve
what might be the ideal in pursuing a SISS approach, I draw on a draft
piece that was prepared by Doug Amedeo in the early preparation of the
text for Amedeo et al. (2009). He used the following story to illustrate the
type of difficulties that the researcher may encounter:
Imagine that you are engaged in a social science research project in which you
are investigating a particular kind of human activity and examining its companion experiences as well. Your overall objective, let us assume, is to better
understand a research issue that is to do with activity episodes and their relationships to the contexts within which they take place.
Assume that the population of interest to you is both well-defined and

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24 A spatially integrated social science approach


c omprehensible. And despite the presence of stratification within the population, the information you need to focus on for your study is known to vary
uniformly throughout the population.
With these conditions, then, the selection of a representative sample from this
population is achievable with the use of a straight forward random-selection
procedure.
In addition, say also that the structure and dimensions of the context for your
study of human activity of interest are readily identifiable. And for the moment
assume also that spatial and/or environmental circumstances exert no significant influences on this contexts structure, nor on any of the activity-processes
themselves. Further, assume that all variables, dimensions, effects, and influences
relevant to your study are measurable by at least an interval or ratio scale. In
addition, assume that reactions from participants and/or their attitudes to the
entire research process itself can be correctly anticipated, identified, and dealt
with in the research process. You are also confident that the categories of the
response scales used in your surveys inquiries completely exhaust the variety
and extent of responses that participants might make about their activities and
experiences.
Other useful research conditions also characterize the study area contemplated for your research:
Affective qualifications of responses, for example, are not significant in your
study.
Participants perceptions can be identified, concretely defined, and if need
be readily taken into consideration.
All of the behavioral components of the activities you are investigating and
the related experiences of interest in your investigation are well understood
by you.
Your tentative hypotheses formulated for evaluation in your study are
firmly grounded in robust theory.
You expect that all constructs to be used in your study will have empirical
counterparts in this study area.
And, finally, no sources of variance, other than that of relevance to your
research objective, enter into your investigation.
All of these conditions set out above are, let us assume, the circumstances you
face in conducting your research. The issue is, then, Can one expect to encounter these and other research-enhancing study-area conditions routinely when
conducting social and behavioral type research?
The answer to this question is likely to be a resounding no!
They are assumptions of ideal situations, much like those outlined in the
model circumstances taught to beginning researchers when they are first introduced to, for example, the statistical inference framework a framework which
is frequently employed by social and behavioral researchers, whether such conditions characterize the circumstances surrounding their research or not.
Although certainly preferred by many investigators, conditions like the ones
outlined are, in fact, seldom encountered in reality and, as a collection, rarely
are they attainable in practice, especially in social science research focusing, for
example, on aspects of human activity and experience.
But consider now, for example, what might arguably be the most vital of the
conditions just described namely, the selection and the use of a truly random

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A spatially integrated approach25


(that is, representative) sample. In practice, this is often virtually un-achievable
in social and behavioral research. It is not that researchers fail to appreciate the
need to have such samples; for, in addition to being reflective of ones population, they are critical in the employment of inferential statistics (for example, in
the use of sampling distributions) to make judgments about the significance of
ones statistical findings. The same can be said for many of the other conditions
just outlined they are circumstances not often attained. Instead, what is likely
to be the case is that most investigators face conditions which are considerably
less than optimal or facilitative to further their research intentions, and generate all sorts of conceptual and methodological complexities. That is to say, it
is their presence which creates numerous difficulties for conceptualizing ideas
about subject matters being investigated and for the applications of methods
which facilitate description and analysis of information. In reality, in order to
pursue their research interests, investigators find that they must acknowledge
these difficulties. And, more importantly, researchers need to accept that their
presence is likely to significantly alter the way a research project or investigation will then be developed and proceed.

The remaining chapters of this book will address a wide range of issues
relevant to taking a SISS approach in investigating social and behavioural
phenomena ranging from theoretical issues across a spectrum of methodological issues in research design, the collection of data, and the analysis of
data using tools and techniques that explicitly enable one to incorporate
an explicit consideration of spatial perspectives.

NOTE
1. The use of spatial analysis in the social science literature as a share of research articles
in some of the key journals increased from roughly 1.3 per cent in 1990 to 3.7 per cent in
2001, representing nearly 8900 articles indexed in six online citation services.

REFERENCES
Amedeo, D., Golledge, R.G. and Stimson, R.J. (2009), PersonEnvironmentBehavior
Research: Investigating Activities and Experiences in Spaces and Environments, New York:
Guilford Press.
Goodchild, M.F., Anselin, L., Applebaum, R.P. and Herr Harthorn, B. (2000), Towards
spatially integrated social science, International Regional Science Review, 23, pp. 139150.
Goodchild, M.F. and Janelle, D.G. (eds) (2004a), Spatially Integrated Social Science,
Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Goodchild, M.F. and Janelle, D.G. (2004b), Thinking spatially in the social sciences, in
Goodchild, M.F. and Janelle, D.G. (eds), Spatially Integrated Social Science, Oxford:
Oxford University Press, pp. 316.
Haining, P.R. (2003), Spatial Data Analysis: Theory and Practice, Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press.
Harvey, D. (1969), Explanation in Geography, London: Edward Arnold.

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