Center for Interdisziplinary Research

ZiF Workshop

Defining Neighbourhoods to Measure Contextual Effects on Inequalities: Large or Small? Pre-defined or Self-defined?

Date: 2 - 4 June 2014

Convenors: Basile Chaix (Paris, FRA), Margit Fauser (Bielefeld, GER), Oliver Razum (Bielefeld, GER), Odile Sauzet (Bielefeld, GER), Reinhard Schunck (Bielefeld, GER)

Social inequalities are increasing throughout Europe. Their causes need to be understood in order to find remedies. That there are effects of the contextual settings (including neighbourhood, besides individual-level factors) on inequalities is well documented but a lot remains to be done to obtain a comprehensive model of causal pathways. The effects of neighbourhoods on health are studied by geographers, epidemiologists, sociologists and statisticians, and challenges to move the subject forward have been set in these fields. However, there are few opportunities for researchers of different fields to share their findings and methods. The aim of the workshop "Defining neighbourhoods to measure contextual effects on inequalities: large or small? Pre-defined or self-defined?" was to gather scientists from the above mentioned specialties to discuss and exchange on three topical aspects of research on contextual effects. The first one was finding the right definitions of neighbourhood for the purpose of understanding the mechanisms linking place and health inequalities. The second was concerned with methods to establish causality for environmental effects on health and understanding the complex interrelationships between selective mobility patterns, neighbourhood environments, individual characteristics, and health outcomes. And the third was how to include the experience of migration and resulting transnational ties in contextual studies.

The first day was concerned with the operationalization of neighbourhood. Discussion themes included the relevance of the objective neighbourhood relative to the perceived neighbourhood, or finding the adequate statistical methods to find the most relevant size of a neighbourhood for a particular research question. The second day focused on strategies to obtain indications of a causal pathway between neighbourhood and health outcomes. The last day offered a sociological perspective theoretical as well as empirical, on the notion of social capital in the context of migration and transnationalization. Themes raised during the two discussion sessions included the notion of collective efficacy, causal mechanisms, the place of softer outcome (e.g. happiness) in research on spatial health inequalities, how to incorporate neighbourhood selection in quantitative analysis and mechanism of neighbourhood effects.

The workshop offered a useful platform for the fostering of discussion and development of ideas between researchers from social epidemiology, human geography, sociology and statistics who would not usually have the opportunity to share ideas, methods and challenges related to neighbourhood effects on health with a focus on detecting the cause of social inequalities in terms of health outcomes.


Anja Baumbach (Bielefeld, GER), Ursula Berger (München, GER), Gabriele Bolte (Bremen, GER), Jürgen Breckenkamp (Bielefeld, GER), Christoph Buck (Bremen, GER), Peter P. Groenewegen (Utrecht, NED), Eva Kibele (Groningen, NED), Heike Köckler (Dortmund, GER), Alastair H. Leyland (Glasgow, GBR), Werner Maier (Neuherberg, GER), David Manley (Bristol, GBR), Kelsey McDonald (Essen, GER), Andreas Mielck (Neuherberg, GER), Susanne Moebus (Essen, GER), Magdalena Nowicka (Berlin, GER), Camille Perchoux (Paris, FRA), Sven Schneider (Mannheim, GER), Jacob Spallek (Bielefeld, GER), Verena Vogt (Berlin, GER), Sven Voigtländer (Erlangen, GER), Geeke Waverijn (Utrecht, NED), Michael Windzio (Bremen, GER)

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