The Space Between US

The Space Between US


On October 1st, Ryan Enos presented on the topic of physical space and social perception. Dr. Enos began his examination of how space effects psychology and politics by looking toward Chicago. When racial groups were separated farther apart, voting patterns changed.
Local segregation is associated with negative attitudes about the “outgroup.” The “ingroup” also typically votes for the candidate who supports more segregation.

When there is greater space between groups, their perceived physical difference also increases. This is exampled with the “dictator game.” Dr. Enos emphasized the idea that when racial groups occupy the same space, they perceive shared experiences. Empathy grows in these situations, and therefore geography penetrates psychology. This project showed that arrangement in space changes individuals’ perceptions and that psychology, political spaces, and sociology intertwine. 

A similar project by Dr. Enos was also discussed. The social geography of Jerusalem was also explored in this case. This also examined perceived differences. 

Dr. Enos’ third project, “Boston, Trains, Immigrants, andthe Arizona Question,” was the greatest example of these concepts. The title is derived from the idea that places such as Arizona have a high anti-immigrant bias. By placing actors at local Boston commuter train stops, Dr. Enos sought to see if bias could increase based on these variables. For two weeks, actors who spoke only Spanish were sent to the Worcester commuter rail line in European-American populated towns in 2012. Two Spanish speakers would visit the platform, board the trains, and act as daily exposure of“immigrants” to the locals. By simulating new immigrants to these European-American towns, Enos was researching the locals’ reaction.

Surveys were handed out at these platforms to gauge anti-immigrant bias. After only three days of exposure, the local commuters began to show an increase in anti-immigrant sentiment. At the end of the two weeks, the anti-immigrant bias had returned to levels present at the beginning of the experiment. Dr. Enos concluded that this mirrored the history of immigrants entering the country: there is a high level of push back at first, but it is reduced over time.

The project produced tangible results, but the researchers did not look at what happened on the trains and if the Spanish-speakers directly interacted with the commuters or not. The interactions that would have created empathy were overlooked. Also, Dr. Enos concluded this experiment in October of 2016, just before the general election. The election climate could have played a role in this experiment, but it was not specified.

Overall, Dr. Enos uses big data to show social behavior. The lecture provided an example of how data could be utilized in the humanities, specifically sociology and political science. Exploring politics, segregation, and sociology presented a method of using data to show relationships.

While these examples are useful, they are not easily translated into the field of history. Dr. Enos was able to control the data he gathered by using surveys, but this is not as easy for historians. Limited surveys are not suited for subjects that are in the past. For example, the variables in the experiment (the Spanish speakers) are able to manipulate the situation, whereas this is not possible with historical subjects. The examples presented at this lecture are useful for subjects that the researcher can interact with in the present. I left the presentation with ideas about exploring space through non-tradition methods. Dr. Enos’ exploration of social groups and the space dividing them is an example of how historians can consider the history of segregation and bias. 

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