Review on Places That Matter 


Chapter 6 of Places That Matter walks you through the next phase of drafting your research brief. I recommend that you complete each of the exercises in the chapter as you do the readings. Completing the exercises will help you write the draft of section 5. Directions for the section 5 draft are on page 145 – 147 of the Ferrante book. For this assignment you will be submitting a 2-3 page draft of section 5 of your research brief.

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Section 5 of the research brief covers content analysis of news about your census tract. This offers clues as to your neighborhood/census tract’s reputation. That reputation—founded or unfounded—including the reputation of certain streets can be negative, positive, or unremarkable. It also covers research on third places. This section of the brief covers preschool enrollment which serves as an indicator of investments made in the youngest residents.  Finally, the brief includes something about the variable selected for special focus.



(At the bottom of page instructions are in yellow) example in red:


Place that matter: Words of Faith AME church Mableton Georgia (cobb county)

Census tract website:

Click “View Tables”

Click “Filter”

Click “Geography”

Click “Tract”

Click on your state

Check the box next to your census tract

Click the “hide” button




Chapter 6 Places that matter READING:


Basic Research Concepts

To this point we have identified the place that matters, established the census tract that is the surrounding neighborhood, learned about the residents and the households in which they live, and inventoried some of the tangible and intangible neighborhood resources. We have mostly relied on census data—data already collected and available. We have also gathered some observational data guided by the five signature concepts from classic theorists and by the four sociological perspectives. This chapter presents data gathering in a more systematic way, giving emphasis to decisions that must be made when doing more complex investigative research. Those decisions relate to establishing a unit of analysis and a target population to study. There are decisions to be made regarding sampling and data gathering. Finally, variables and a hypothesis must be established.


What follows is NOT a step-by-step guide for how to make these decisions. Rather consider it an overview of the kinds of decisions researchers must make when they collect data. These decisions are not made in any particular order or even one at a time. Sometimes decisions are made simultaneously. As an analogy, think about the skills and knowledge people must possess to drive a car to some destination. There is no agreed upon order about what to do and when. Every action is contingent on the situations that arise along the way, and the driver must continually assess options, draw on skills, and make a series of decisions before eventually getting to the destination.

The exercises you have completed in chapters 1 through 5 involve descriptive research. Just as its name suggests, the aim of descriptive research is to describe. Since these exercises involved becoming familiar with the surrounding neighborhood or census tract, descriptive research was ideal. In this and the chapters to come we will think in more complex ways about gathering data and making interpretations.



What You Will Do

✓ Read about unit of analysis and target populations.


✓ Complete two exercises.


✓ Present data and observations consistent with the model examples.


✓ Make interpretations modeled after examples.


Unit of Analysis

The unit of analysis relates to the “who” or “what” that is the object of research. A unit of analysis can be individuals, groups, households, territories, artifacts, documents, or social interactions. Knowing you have these choices about who or what kinds of things to study offers options and inspires creativity. It is important to know that the choice you make directs the kind of data collected and what you can say about it.

Individuals are perhaps the most well known unit of analysis. When studying individuals, researchers focus on the characteristics, attitudes, behaviors, and opinions of some predetermined number of people. The unit of analysis is individuals if we choose to ask residents, “Do you have a physical condition that substantially limits one or more basic physical activities such as walking, climbing stairs, reaching, lifting, or carrying?” Likewise, if we ask women ages 15 to 49 whether they have given birth in the past year, the unit of analysis is also individuals.


Groups consist of people who share common traits and/or interact with one another in meaningful ways. When the unit of analysis is the group, we are interested in the group, not the individuals per se who make up the group. Although you may ask questions or collect data from the individuals who make up the group being studied, you will present that data in a way that tells us something about the group. For example, you might want to determine whether men in your census tract are more likely than women to have a physical condition that substantially limits one or more basic physical activities such as walking, climbing stairs, reaching, lifting, or carrying. If you study a neighborhood crime watch group, you can report on the average length of time members have been residents, the ratio of male to female members, the average age of members, and the percentage of members who reported suspicious activity within the past day, week, month, or year. You can also make observations about how members relate to one another.

Households, like groups, are studied apart from the individuals who comprise them. Households include all those who share the same place of residence. When the unit of analysis is households your interest lies in understanding something about the household as a unit. So you gather data with an eye to using it to know about a household, such as total household income (i.e., the combined income of all people living in the household). We could also gather data that yield insights about household structures or types (e.g., female-headed households with children under age 18 or multigenerational households). Or you could establish the percentage of households that pay more than 30% of income to meet housing-related expenses (e.g., mortgage payments, insurance).


Territories are spaces marked by known boundaries. Examples of territories are countries, states, counties, cities, census tracts, neighborhoods, streets, buildings, public spaces, and classrooms. When the unit of analysis is territories, you are interested in the characteristics of that territory. The unit of analysis is a territory if you are interested in learning the rate of bedbug infestation on a street, the poverty rate of a census tract, the income distribution of a county, or the racial composition of a state.


Artifacts or traces include any physical evidence that is the result of some action or activity. In other words, artifacts are any objects humans have made, such as artworks, items of clothing, and tools. Artifacts can also be flowers planted in the front yards of homes, fences marking property lines, litter along a stretch of riverbank, broken windows in abandoned buildings, or a landmark erected to honor a person or a historical event. The unit of analysis is an artifact if your research involves establishing the number of fenced-in yards per every 100 residential properties or if it involves weighing trash picked up. When studying artifacts researchers ask questions like, What messages does an artifact—such as a Humvee or a moped—send about what the owner values? Is there evidence that an artifact—such as a Confederate flag or the American flag—has a uniting or dividing effect on the larger society?

Documents are written or printed materials, such as signs; news headlines; articles; blogs; bumper stickers; birth, death, and marriage certificates; license plates; property valuations; and laws or ordinances. The documents can be records of past activity (marriage licenses issued before sending soldiers off to war) or records that document someone’s position (e.g., legal driver, political affiliation). Local ordinances are also examples of documents. Ordinances act as windows into the kinds of issues or behaviors a neighborhood has deemed important enough to impose formal sanctions for violating such as fines, jail time, and other penalties. An ordinance may mandate that teens not be outdoors after 10:00 P.M. or that all owners or keepers of dogs act to keep them off another’s property. Another kind of document is news headlines. When the headlines are about your neighborhood they can serve as a window onto its reputation.


Social interactions include encounters or relationships between two or more people in which the involved parties take the social context and each other into account before acting. Interaction is considered social when the parties can expect certain behavior and responses from others. If you study doctor-patient relationships or police-resident encounters, that unit of analysis is a social interaction. Again, remember that the focus is on characteristics or outcomes of an interaction, not on the individuals involved. If you are studying the doctor-patient relationship, you might collect data on the percentage of visits in which a doctor issues a prescription or the percentage of visits in which patients requests a special treatment or medication. If studying police-resident encounters, you might collect data on the percentage of all encounters over the course of a week that are conversational and do not involve any form of disciplinary action.


Target Population

Once you determine the unit of analysis, then you must state the target population—the population targeted for research. The population targeted may be be specific individuals, groups, households, territories, artifacts, or interactions. If the unit of analysis is individuals you must specify the types of individuals you are studying and in what context. The individuals could be high school age students at a specific school or schools (St. Mary or Jefferson County in Wakefield, Missouri). Here the aim might be to learn the percentage of students planning to attend college. Likewise, if the unit of analysis is artifacts, then be clear about the kind of artifact and in what context (see figure 6.1). The artifact might be trash discarded along the banks of a 10-mile segment of the Mississippi River or trash discarded along the entire 2,350 miles of the Mississippi River. You may want to know the weight of trash collected per each mile of the riverbank targeted for study. If you decide to compare trash discarded along riverbanks of major cities, then both artifacts and territories are the unit of analysis.

Exercise 6.1: Identify a unit of analysis and a target population

In this exercise territories are the unit of analysis. You will identify two territories or census tracts to study: (1) the census tract that is home to your place that matters and (2) a bordering census tract. For illustrative purposes, tract 9501 in Okolona, Mississippi, is the home census tract and census tract 9502 in New Houlka, Mississippi, is an adjacent census tract. Both tracts are in Chickasaw County. You can identify an adjacent tract number by doing a Google search for FFIEC Geocoding System. In the address box, enter the address of the place that matters. When the map comes up you will see the home census tract number and also the numbers of adjacent tracts. Select one of the adjacent tracts.


The target population is 3- and 4-year-olds who live in the two census tracts, 9501 and 9502. Specifically, you want to know the percentage of 3- and 4-year-olds enrolled in preschool and if the two tracts differ in significant ways. Knowing the percentage for the home and adjacent census tracts is useful because it tells you where the home census tract stands in comparison to another. In addition, the comparison will offer insights into whether the home census tract is at an advantage or a disadvantage relative to another tract.


Why is it important to know about preschool enrollment? Research has shown that a tie to a nursery school or preschool is critical (Arteaga et al. 2014). Specifically, the research shows that in comparison to children who do not go to nursery school or preschool, children who do go are


  • less likely to fail a grade or to be placed in special education;


  • more likely when they reach adulthood to secure higher-paying jobs;


  • less likely to be abused and neglected; and


  • less likely to engage in delinquent acts as teens.

Use the census data from Table S1401 School Enrollment (latest 5-year estimates) to create a table that shows for both census tracts the number and percentage of 3- and 4-year-olds enrolled in preschool for both tracts. Use table 6.1 as a guide for your write-up. Note that Table S1401 gives you the data you need to fill in column 2 (number of children enrolled in preschool) and column 4 (percentage enrolled). You can use these data to calculate the number of children ages 3 and 4 enrolled (column 1) and the number not enrolled (column 3).1


Model Interpretation

Just over 53.8% of 3- and 4-year-olds in census tract 9501 are enrolled in nursery school or preschool versus 0.0 percent in census tract 9502. That is a 53.8% difference. For census tract 9501 to equal census tract 9502’s enrollment rate of 53.8%, it would have to enroll 25.22 more students.

Table 6.1 Number and Percentage of 3- and 4-Year-Olds Enrolled in Preschool, Census Tracts 9501 and 9502 in Chickasaw County, Mississippi






Knowing this difference in enrollment rates may prompt us to consider what is it about census tract 9501—its residents or households—that explains its relative success over census tract 9502. Perhaps residents in census tract 9502 have a higher or lower median household income than those in census tract 9501. To check if there are household income differences between two tracts, go the census bureau website and access Table B19013, Median Household Income in the Past 12 Months, for each census tract. The median household income for census tract 9501 is $26,116 and for census tract 9502 it is $35,022, an $8,906 difference. The census tract with the highest median income is the one where parents of 3- and 4-year-olds are not enrolling them in preschool. It is also the census tract where there is a greater percentage of married couple households (49.1% vs. 31.0%) and where there are fewer female-headed households (18.8% vs. 27.0%). See the document “Selected Social Characteristics in the U.S.” for household type data.



✓ Read background information on sampling.

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