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Maps and Legends: Revisiting Charles Booth’s Classifications of London Poverty in the Context of Twenty-first Century Urban Inequality

This presentation will revisit the history of mapping as a valuable instrument in the formative stages of social work, focus on using Geographic Information Systems (GIS) in social work education, research, practice, and advocacy to contend with contemporary social problems, and propose a collaborative study of inequality and social exclusion in New York City and London. Both cities cultivated the social work profession through the settlement house movement and are currently grappling with similar dynamics of globalization and human migration, shifting racial and ethnic diversity, patterns in the growth and structure of cities (such as gentrification), and retrenched welfare state polices.

The significance of mapping in the social sciences and the study of social problems, and its influence on methods of inquiry, scholarly communication, and the advancement of area studies, cannot be overstated. Charles Booth’s Inquiry into the Life and Labour of the People in London (1886-1903) was a pioneering use of mapping to understand social problems and present geospatial data for practical purposes. Residents from the founding settlements were involved in Booth’s poverty studies and the settlement house movement used mapping to facilitate early efforts in social research, practice, and advocacy.

Today, understanding the dynamics of inequality may be more appropriate and useful to addressing matters of social exclusion than Booth’s focus on poverty. This collaborative venture with research partners at Birkbeck would utilize GIS to study important causal factors of social exclusion within the current neighborhood contexts of New York and London where settlement houses are located.