Socio-spatial dialogues in the city: Tracing spatial mobilities, social engagement and integration using big data

Novel big data sources for integration research and practice.

International migration has reached record highs in recent years. Movement of people from their familiar community to a foreign place and culture creates challenges for both migrants and host communities. The need to alleviate possible tensions and support migrants to realize their potentials puts the operationalization of current integration policies under pressure and urges researchers to strive for a better understanding of intergroup relations.

Integration is widely studied from various angles such as civic and political participation, education and labour market outcomes. Scientists concerned with the spatial aspects of integration have mainly focused on residential segregation and neighbourhood effects. Yet, meaningful social encounters and interactions take place in the extent of individuals’ entire activity spaces – places they visit for work, education, shopping, services, socialising and leisure. However, not much is known about those activities and interactions due to the lack of suitable data and methods. This PhD project argues that user-generated digital data derived from mobile phones and social media platforms have the potential to narrow this gap by providing a more nuanced understanding of individuals’ complex social interactions in space and time, and therefore, open new avenues for integration research.

This PhD project aims to seek how novel Big Data sources can be applied to obtain more comprehensive understanding about socio-spatial interactions of individuals across their activity spaces, and consequently provide new insights for integration research and practice.

Particularly, the project provides:

  1. a critical review on the applicability of novel big data approaches in investigating socio-spatial interactions across people's activity spaces in the context of segregation research;
  2. new empirical understanding about individuals’ spatial integration-isolation by investigating their social interactions throughout their activity spaces based on mobile phone and social media data;
  3. policy-relevant information about socio-spatial integration processes in the Helsinki Metropolitan Area.


Kerli Müürisepp (Doctoral Researcher)

Olle Järv (Supervisor, Academy Research Fellow)

Tuuli Toivonen (Supervisor, Professor of Geoinformatics)

Tiit Tammaru (Supervisor, Professor of Urban and Population Geography)



The project has received funding from:

  • Kone Foundation (2018-2023): "Socio-spatial dialogues in the city: Tracing spatial mobilities, social engagement and integration using big data"
  • City of Helsinki (2022-2023): "Spatial integration or isolation? Everyday mobility across neighbourhoods in Helsinki based on mobile phone data"