Robert Vargas: Redistricting and the Territorialization of Urban Space


Monday, November 18, 2019, 12:00pm to 1:30pm


Allison Dining Room

Robert Vargas, Neubauer Family Assistant Professor of Sociology and Director of the Violence, Law, and Politics Lab, University of Chicago.

Robert VargasRedistricting constitutes one of the most important and contentious subjects concerning U.S. democracy. This study aims to take a first step toward shifting the study of redistricting beyond a focus on partisan gerrymandering and toward spatial inequality.

Using digitized maps of all city council political districts in the cities of Chicago, St Louis, and Milwaukee from their founding in the 19th century to the present, this study asks: how frequently do blocks in a city change wards?

Findings reveal that approximately 15% of city blocks have remained in the same political districts since the 19th century, and that these spaces are spatially clustered in neighborhoods home to local political, economic, and administrative elites. Results from cross-sectional regression models suggest that a combination of political, economic, and ecological factors are responsible for the production of these distinct political territories.

Overall, findings reveal the need to rethink "one-person-one-vote", conceptualize cities as composed of territories, and begin to unpack the consequences of political territories for the production of spatial inequality.

About the speaker

Robert Vargas is a Neubauer Family Assistant Professor of Sociology and founding Director of the Violence, Law, and Politics Lab at the University of Chicago. His research examines how redistricting laws, bureaucracies, and public policies shape the conditions of cities, with a particular focus on violence and health care.

His award-winning book, Wounded City: Violent Turf Wars in a Chicago Barrio (Oxford University Press, 2016), shows the relationship between ward boundary redistricting and block-level violence in the Little Village neighborhood of Chicago.

Wounded City, by Robert VargasProfessor Vargas is currently involved in two major ongoing quantitative research projects. First, he is examining the effects of redistricting on spatial inequality. Second, with funding from an NSF Early Career award, he will continue his research on the  political economy of urban violence through a quantitative historical project on homicide in Chicago, New Orleans, and San Francisco from 1870 to the present. Please visit the Violence, Law, and Politics Lab website at for more information on these projects.

A Chicago native, Professor Vargas also consults on numerous local policy initiatives for foundations and nonprofit organizations.

Learn more about Robert Vargas's work


See also: Fall 2019