Spatial Logics: The Politics of Place in Faith-Based Social Service Provision
Ecklund, Elaine Howard
Master of Arts
Prior research indicates that, in the provision of social services, faith-based organizations are unique in their propensity to locate in disadvantaged neighborhoods. Yet, scholars and policymakers know little about why this is so, and thus we have little understanding of how they and other social service organizations understand the significance of place in their operation. I draw on 12 months of ethnographic observation (175 hours) and interviews with 24 key informants in two faith-based social service organizations in Houston, Texas to interrogate how organizations articulate a spatial logic for their work and how conceptions of place matter for service provision. I identify two types of spatial logics: a people-centric logic that imbues place with significance based on proximity to a target demographic community, and a place-centric logic that prioritizes service to a specific geographic area. Both types of spatial meanings are shaped not only by religious convictions, but also through relationships with key constituent groups, particularly donors and volunteers. These spatial logics subsequently shape the ways that agencies use space to attract certain populations and deter others. The results have implications for understanding the importance of place in the social safety net, as well as the institutional logics of faith-based social service provision.
Religion; Social Services; Urban; Race/Ethnicity; Qualitative