About S4


Spatial Structures in the Social Sciences – S4 –the scholarly space for exchange among faculty and students working on issues of space and place in myriad settings.  Work supported by S4 ranges from simple map-making, through a wide range of applications in Geographic Information Systems (GIS), to innovative research with the latest concepts and methods in spatial data science.  

At S4 our principal focus is to develop, support, and extend spatial research at Brown. To that end we both initiate and consult on a wide variety of research projects and proposals. Selected projects, representing the breadth of our work, are highlighted in the projects section. We also provide consulting services to the Brown community. All this is in service of advancing research, making for more competitive grant applications, and training the next generation.


Project Development: The S4 Director (Prof. Kevin Mwenda) is available to meet with members of the Brown community to assist with project development. At any stage in project development S4 can help identify needs, assist with research design, and consult on execution/operational concerns.

Technical Consulting: The S4 Director or the Senior Research Scientist (Dr. Guixing Wei) can provide technical consulting.


At S4 we believe that an important way to achieve our research mission is through training. Our core faculty teach courses on spatial thinking and methods- including courses on spatial perspectives, cartography & GIS, spatial analysis and modeling, and spatial statistics.

Our signature training activity is the bi-annual GIS Institute. The GIS institute provides an opportunity for faculty, staff and doctoral students to learn spatial methods by doing spatial research. The GIS institute is a two week intensive training through which participants develop spatial research questions and learn spatial analysis and cartographic tools.

Additional training is available through workshops (Dr. Guixing Wei).

Intellectual Community

We support spatial inquiry by fostering a community of spatial researchers at Brown.  S4’s core faculty are from the disciplines of Anthropology, Archeology, Economics, Geography, Public Health, Sociology, and Statistics and our over 40 faculty affiliates represent the breadth of spatial thinking in of the humanities, public health,  data, social and physical sciences at Brown.

Colloquium: S4 both co-sponsors colloquia with allied academic units and (co-)sponsors its own speaker series that feature visitors who engage on topics of broad spatial interest. Our colloquia aim to foster discussion and stimulate ideas around spatial topics in the social sciences. See the colloquium page for upcoming speakers and past colloquia.

Some S4 History

S4 began to take shape in 2002 as scholars in several different social science disciplines recognized the need to develop a stronger spatial analysis capacity at Brown University.  S4 was formally established in 2003 to “make Brown a highly visible international center for research that investigates human behavior in its social and spatial context.”   In Fall 2002 an ad hoc committee of faculty that included the chairs of Sociology, Economics, Political Science, Urban Studies, and the Taubman Center submitted a formal proposal to establish an “Initiative in Geosocial Interactions.”   S4 was formally approved in 2003 by Brown’s Academic Priorities Committee under the S4 name: Spatial Structures in the Social Sciences.

In spring 2004, S4 announced the appointment of Professor John Logan who was recruited to be the first S4 Director, followed by Professor Michael White in 2016 and Professor Kevin Mwenda in 2024. S4 has also been designated as the Spatial Analysis Core for the Population Studies and Training Center, and this institutional connection has proved valuable for both programs. S4 now counts over 40 faculty affiliates from various departments across the campus, not just the social sciences. Many graduate students have joined S4 as Graduate Fellows typically after enrolling in the GIS Institute and continuing on incorporating spatial thinking and tools in their research.