"Cognitive Geocoding: African American males navigating community violence in Chicago"


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  • Speaker: Desmond Patton, Assistant Professor School of Social Work, University of Michigan
  • Host Department: Psychology
  • Date: 04/21/2014
  • Time: 12:00 PM - 1:00 PM

  • Location: 4464 East Hall

  • Description:
    Abstract: Navigating community violence is routine for urban African American males ages 15 to 24. Each day, an adolescent African American male living in a violent neighborhood must determine what streets to walk, whom to avoid, and what time to leave home—all before entering school. Current literature lacks a frame for understanding what African American males know about their neighborhood, how they conceptualize safety, and how both factors influence their social lives. Data from this exploratory qualitative study, drawn from interviews of 18 high-achieving adolescent African American males attending school on Chicago’s west side, found that they navigate community violence via cognitive geocoding. Cognitive geocoding is a behavioral process linking meaning-making of one’s social environment and spatial landscape to coding safe and unsafe locations. As a cognitive model, meaning-making involves individual perceptions of precise boundaries; landmarks and institutions; and various groups that reside in the neighborhood–to include gang members and drug dealers. Participants use this information to make behavioral decisions that lead to the coding of safe and unsafe locations throughout their neighborhoods. Cognitive geocoding refers to participants mapping boundaries, people, and places in their neighborhoods. Implications of cognitive geocoding for moving to and from school are discussed. 

    Bio: Dr. Desmond Patton's research is broadly focused on urban African American male development and identity. He is specifically interested in the mechanisms and processes underlying how African American adolescent males respond to community violence exposure and its impact on developmental and life course outcomes. Pattons work takes into account how relationships between social networks, neighborhood conditions and social support impact how African-American males navigate physical and virtual spaces. As a qualitative researcher, Patton has interest in narrative and case-study based approaches to unpacking the lived experiences of urban African American males.


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