Research Topics

Housing; Home; Urban; Family; Immigration; Population; Environment; Health; Methods

Current Research Activities

My award-winning book, The Death and Life of the Single Family House: Lessons from Vancouver on Building a Livable City (Temple University Press), investigates the regulatory power attached to the house and its impact on the shape and inhabitability of North American cities. I examine the transformation of Vancouver as a key city and talk to residents about their experiences with housing. Since the 1960s, Vancouver has curbed sprawl and opened up more alternatives to the single family house than any other metropolis on the continent. During the same time it’s become heralded as one of the world’s “most livable cities,” providing lessons for how other transformations might proceed. Interviews with residents provide insight into the cultural importance of the house and detail the urban problems it seems to solve, but also underscore its catastrophic impact. Too many houses create barriers to making the city a better and more sustainable home for all. Fortunately the evidence suggests the real viability of change.  The book builds on historical (archival & census) and interview data, collected and analyzed with help from my recent SSHRC grant. See Reviews and Media Coverage here.

Making Housing Home: Place and Everyday Routines in Vancouver and Nunavut

As PI on this project, I am working with Prof. Frank Tester and a team of students on inventing and integrating new ways of tracing people’s activities through their days and linking the stability of their routines to housing.  My research team produced the booklet below (click to download), organizing the photos and their descriptions that many of our youth participants in Vancouver and Arviat used to tell us about their experiences of home, based upon a public exhibit with the same theme from 2015.

2016. At Home Looks Like…A photovoice project about housing, ‘at homeness’, and young people in Arviat, Nunavut an Vancouver, BC. Vancouver, BC: the Making Housing Home Project (PI: N. Lauster) & Karina Czyzewski.

Working with PhD Student Jing Zhao, the research has also incorporated a study of Chinese immigrants to Canada, attempting to better understand their experiences of place, resulting in a a BC Metropolis Working Paper and a forthcoming paper in Social Problems. This project builds on SSHRC grant funding, and began with help from Hampton and Metropolis BC funding  (see more on project).

The Sanctity of Home / Finders and Keepers / Residential Clutter Projects

Through the UBC Centre for Collaborative Research on Hoarding, I am working with UBC Clinical Psychology Professor Sheila Woody and a team of students and other faculty (including Christiana Bratiotis of Portland State University) to better understand severe cases of residential clutter, the relationship between clutter and hoarding disorder, outcomes for those with hoarding, and urban and related regulatory responses to clutter.  Projects are being funded by both Hampton and SSHRC grants, with additional help from UBC HSS grants.

Other Projects

I have recently worked in both the Arctic and in Vancouver on projects associated with housing justice and health.  I have also published widely on fertility trends and the relationship between family and housing. My research involves significant international work, including past or on-going research projects based in Canada, China, Mexico, Sweden, and the USA.

Books and Edited Volumes

2016. The Death and Life of the Single Family House: Lessons from Vancouver on Building a Livable City. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.

“This original and well-written book is important reading for anyone interested in urban studies, environmental sustainability, and cultural and economic sociology.” – Jane Zavisca

Winner of 2017 John Porter Book Award from the CSA. See recent Reviews and Media Coverage of the book.


2012. The End of Children? Changing Trends in Childbearing and Childhood. co-edited with Graham Allan. Vancouver: UBC Press.

“… successfully combines the expertise of scholars from different fields and is unique in its twinning of declining fertility rates and varying conceptions of childhood. It makes an important contribution to the scholarship on children, across a number of disciplines and geographic boundaries.” — Cynthia Comacchio


2010. Special issue of Housing Studies 25(4) on Housing and the Family. co-edited with Clara Mulder. Including our Introduction to the Issue





Other Selected Recent Publications

* indicates student co-author | (cIRcle) = link to post-print


2017. Labor Migration and the Missing Work of Home-making: Three Forms of Settling for Chinese-Canadian Migrants. Social Problems 64(4): 497–512. with Jing Zhao*. (Access Link Here)

[Pre-Print Full Version Here]

Much of migration theory has come to revolve around the category of the “labor migrant,” without taking into account labor, like home-making, that remains unrecognized by the market. Drawing from qualitative interviews with thirty one Chinese migrants in different stages of making a move from Beijing to Vancouver, we attempt to bring better visibility to how the labor involved in home-making intersects with migration. Defining home-making as work in the pragmatic-existentialist context of the stabilization of everyday routines, we uncover three themes to home-making work: settling in, settling down, and settling for. Discussion of these themes reveals two important issues for migration theory: settlement relies upon the work of home-making and the work of home-making in many cases motivates migration. For these reasons, the work of home-making should be more carefully studied within the migration literature.

Read Globe & Mail (Sept 5th, 2016) coverage of our paper.

2016. How Much of Too Much? What Inspections Data say about Residential Clutter as a Housing Problem. Housing Studies 31(6): 519-539. with Alina McKay*, Navio Kwok*, Jennifer Yip*, and Sheila Woody. (cIRcle)

How big of a housing problem is residential clutter? In this paper, we draw upon inspections data in Vancouver to both estimate the size of the problem and detail how it is observed and constituted through municipal regulatory processes. We contrast the inspections approach to residential clutter with the mental health approach, which focuses on hoarding disorder. Inspections data indicate the problem of residential clutter is potentially larger than might be expected by the epidemiology of hoarding disorder, and also point toward the many risks associated with clutter. Using our best estimate, approximately 7% of low-income, dense, single-room occupancy (SRO) housing units inspected were identified by inspectors as problematically cluttered, indicating a sizable problem. Larger buildings and those managed as social housing were more likely than other buildings to have many units identified as problematically cluttered. Strikingly, for given buildings, estimates of problematic clutter tended to remain relatively stable across time, inspector, and inspection method.

Read CBC (July 27th, 2016) and Province (July 27th, 2016) coverage of our paper

2014.  Homelessness and Health in the Crowded Canadian Arctic: Inuit Experiences.  in Homelessness and Health in Canada.  Ed. M. Guirguis-Younger, S. Hwang, & R. McNeil.  Ottawa: U. Ottawa Press.  Pp. 87-110.  with Frank Tester. (Open-Access Link Here)

The experience of homelessness for Inuit in the Eastern Arctic is the culturally mediated product of a history of displacement compounded by a serious shortage of affordable housing. Despite prominent photographs to the contrary in the national media (Paperny & Minogue, 2009), homelessness in Nunavut is made most visible by extraordinarily high levels of residential crowding rather than by people sleeping in the streets. However, key measurements of residential crowding only capture a portion of Inuit experiences of homelessness. In this chapter we explore Inuit experiences with four objectives. First, we present the cultural context and history of policy development relevant to housing in the Eastern Arctic. We then seek to better define what homelessness means, laying out different dimensions of homelessness and matching them to Inuit experiences. Third, we use the results of an innovative community-based survey, designed with local input, to estimate the prevalence of different types of homelessness in Nunavut and how these relate to more conventional measures. Finally, we establish relationships between homelessness and health issues in Nunavut, captured in the same community survey. Overall we underscore the importance of housing as foundational in addressing a number of health-related problems in the Eastern Arctic. We also suggest that while conventional measures reveal some of the need for housing in Nunavut, they understate the overall experience of homelessness and miss important connections to health.

2014.  The motherhood penalty and the professional credential: Inequality in career development for those with professional degrees.  International Studies in Sociology of Education 24(1): 44-64.  with Caroline Berggren.

Transitions from education to work constitute a distinct set of situations where discrimination is likely to occur. Gender beliefs generally disadvantage women, and when coupled with beliefs regarding parental responsibility, tend to heavily disadvantage mothers. Yet we suggest that professional credentials create a divided labour market, with ameliorative effects. Credentials tend to match specifically to jobs and replace other means of determining the performance expectations of various job candidates. This should be especially true in the public sector, where hiring procedures are more transparent. As a result, we hypothesise that mothers with professional credentials will be less disadvantaged within the occupational market matched to their credentials, especially in the public sector. Data from Sweden, following 43,646 graduates with professional degrees into the labour market, generally support this interpretation, though substantial motherhood penalties remain in many professions. We briefly discuss the implications of these findings.

2013. 'Kinda Just a Home I Guess': Toward Theorizing the Making of Home in Vancouver. in Home: International Perspectives on Culture, Identity, and Belonging. Co-edited by M. Kusenbach & K. Paulsen. Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang.

While questions relating to home have been at the heart of much work in the social sciences, there is little coherence regarding a singular definition of home. Instead, there is a large literature on home and homelessness, emphasizing the diversity of definitions and underlying ambiguity associated with these concepts (see Hopper 1997, Mallett 2004, Manzo 2003, and Rybczynski 1987 for reviews from anthropological, sociological, psychological, and architectural perspectives, respectively). As Mallett (2004) puts it in her expansive review, research has not settled on whether home is best considered a place, a space, a set of feelings, a way of being in the world, or a set of practices. Most uses of home and homelessness have tended toward the first three of these conceptualizations, resulting in somewhat static and passive definitions (largely in line with the literature on “place attachment”) and correspondingly missing the agency with which people go about actively making themselves and others at home (Jacobson 2009, Kellett and Moore 2003, and Manzo 2003). If, in Mary Douglas’ declaration, home “…is not necessarily a fixed space… home starts by bringing some space under control” (1991, p.289), then focusing on the acts of bringing some space under control will help resolve some of the ambiguity associated with defining home (Robertson 2007). At the very least, the current gaps in the literature offer a lot of room for theory-building in the area of home-making (Rivlin and Moore 2001). This is the task I set for myself here, to try and build some of that home-making theory.

2011.  No Room for New Families?  A Field Experiment Measuring Rental Discrimination against Same-Sex Couples and Single Parents.  Social Problems.  58.3: 389-409.  with Adam Easterbrook*. (cIRcle)

We suggest that new forms of family households, especially same-sex couples and single parents, are likely to face discrimination in their interactions with rental markets. Following the contact hypothesis, we hypothesize that the geographic distribution of discrimination is likely to vary. Specifically, in places with more new family households we are likely to find less discrimination against these households. We investigate these issues in the metropolitan area of Vancouver, Canada, through analysis of 1,669 inquiries made about one- and two-bedroom apartments. Using a field experimental design similar to audit studies, we analyze landlord responses to five different two-person household scenarios, including one heterosexual couple, two same-sex couples, and two single parents. Evidence suggests that male same-sex couples, single mothers, and single fathers all face significant discrimination relative to heterosexual couples. The contact hypothesis was supported for male same-sex couples, but not for single parents. This could indicate that single parents are facing discrimination primarily based upon their economic marginalization rather than other forms of prejudice.

Read Metro News (Oct 6th, 2016), CBC (Aug 27th, 2011), Globe & Mail (Aug 26th, 2011), CTV-News (Aug 26th, 2011), and Tyee (Aug 26th, 2011) coverage of our paper. See also influence in terms of relevant legal briefs (Westcoastleaf) and follow-up HUD studies in the USA.

2011. Exploring the Distribution of Grocery Stores in British Columbia: Associations with Neighbourhood Socio-Demographic Factors and Urban Form. Health and Place 17: 961-970. with Jennifer Black, Richard Carpiano, & Stuart Fleming*.

Several studies have identified disparities in access to food retailers among urban neighbourhoods with varied socio-demographic characteristics; but few studies have examined whether key zoning and siting mechanisms described in the urban planning literature explain differences in food store access. This study assessed associations between socio-demographic and urban planning variables with the availability of large supermarkets and stores selling fresh food within one kilometre buffers from residential addresses and the proximity to the closest food stores across 630 census tracts in British Columbia, Canada. Multivariate regression results indicated that neighbourhoods with higher median household income had significantly decreased access to food stores. Inclusion of urban planning factors in multivariate models, particularly housing and transportation considerations, explained much of the relation between area income and food store access, and were significant predictors of food store availability and proximity. Public health research and practice addressing food availability would benefit by incorporating theoretical perspectives from urban planning theory.

Read Vancouver Sun (Oct 26th, 2011) coverage of our paper.

2010.  Housing and the Proper Performance of American Motherhood, 1940-2005.  Housing Studies 25(4): 543-557. (cIRcle)

Current approaches to the link between family and housing tend not to closely examine cultural change. This paper attempts to provide a theoretical framework, rooted in symbolic interaction, dramaturgy and critical theory, well suited to the study of cultural change. This critical dramaturgical framework is applied to explore the changing link between housing as a stage prop and the privileged performance of motherhood. It is argued that redefinition of the proper performance of motherhood by the privileged constitutes an important aspect of cultural change, making positive evaluations of motherhood more difficult to achieve without a proper house. This results in an increase in stage fright, or women avoiding motherhood because they feel ill prepared to perform it properly, and an increase in the devaluing of certain categories of mother. US census data collected through the IPUMS project is used to provide evidence of these trends, where available, and further avenues of research are suggested.

2010.  Culture as a Problem in Linking Material Inequality to Health: On Residential Crowding in the Arctic. Health and Place 16: 523-530.  with Frank Tester. (cIRcle)

Two problems are noted in the process of measuring material inequality and linking it to health across cultural boundaries. First, comparative measurements may be used as the basis for policy making, which ends up disciplining cultural minorities. In this way, policies intended to relieve disparities can actually have the effect of extending the power of the dominant group to define appropriate cultural understanding of the world for the minority group. Second, comparative measurements may inaccurately inform theories of how inequality works to influence health and well-being. To the extent that culture mediates the relationship between inequality and outcomes of interest to researchers, those ignoring cultural differences will fail to adequately assess the impact and significance of material inequality. In this paper we discuss and illustrate these problems with reference to the study and measurement of overcrowding and its effects on health and well-being for Inuit communities in Nunavut, Canada.

2010. A Room to Grow: The Residential Density-Dependence of Childbearing in Europe and the United States Canadian Studies in Population (Open Access) 37(3-4): 475-496.

I argue that cultural processes linked to the demographic transition produce new density-dependent fertility dynamics. In particular, childbearing becomes dependent upon residential roominess. This relationship is culturally specific, and I argue that the cultural nature of this relationship means that professional and managerial classes are likely to be particularly influenced by residential roominess, while immigrants are less likely to be influenced. I test hypotheses linking residential roominess to the presence of an “own infant” in the household using census data from the Austria, Greece, Portugal, Spain, and the United States. Roominess predicts fertility in all countries, but to differing degrees.

2008.   Better Homes and Families: Housing Markets and Young Couple Stability in Sweden.  Journal of Marriage and Family 70.4: 891-903.

I model the relationship between aspects of the housing market influenced by housing policy and couple stability for cohabiting couples in Sweden. Using data on 3,851 cohabiting couples obtained from the Swedish Family Survey of 1992, I examine the effects of housing market characteristics on couple outcomes. I focus on three housing variables, including the affordability of housing, the availability of detached housing, and the profitability of ownership. I link these variables to the transitions from cohabitation to marriage or separation in Sweden. Policy relevant aspects of the housing market are shown to have significant effects on the stability of couples in Sweden. Greater affordability increases couple stability. Intriguingly, greater availability of detached housing significantly weakens couple stability.


See CV for more publications in these and other venues, including: Population & Environment, International Migration Review, Population Research and Policy Review.



Winter 2018

SOCI324 Sociology of the Life Course Sections

Individuals and families through the life course.

Winter 2018

SOCI364 Built Environments Sections

Physical, social, and economic aspects of built environments, including housing and community planning.

Winter 2018
No SOCI course(s) were found for W2018 term.Winter 2018

SOCI599B Special Topics Seminar - SPEC TOPICS SEM Sections

Teaching Areas

Built Environment, Research Methods, Urban Sociology, Life Course, Population, Community & Demography.


PhD, Brown University, 2004
MA, Washington State University, 1998
BA,  Purdue University, 1995

Fulbright Hays Fellowship (Stockholm University & Uppsala University), 2000-2001
Postdoctoral Fellowship (University of Minnesota), 2004-2005


Steering Committee member of the Pacific Housing Research Network
International Editorial Advisory Board member of Housing Studies
Affiliate of the Cascadia Urban Analytics Cooperative
Member of the Centre for Collaborative Research on Hoarding