Dr. Guo Chen

Guo  Chen
  • Associate Professor
  • Geography, Environment, and Spatial Sciences
  • Geography Building
  • 673 Auditorium Road, Room 211
  • East Lansing, MI 48824
  • 517-432-4747


Social, economic, and environmental dynamics of urban transformations, Poverty, Inequality, Justice, Housing, Migrants, China, Asia-Pacific, and Emerging Countries


Guo Chen is an Associate Professor of Geography and Global Urban Studies at Michigan State University and holds a Ph.D. degree in Geography from Pennsylvania State University, a Master’s degree, and a B.S. in Econ Geography & Planning from Nanjing University.  Dr. Chen received awards including a prestigious Wilson Center Fellowship 2017-18, and an Outstanding Service Award from AAG-China Geography Specialty Group in 2020. She is a recipient of the ISS Teaching Excellence Award at MSU. She has authored and co-authored over forty publications with a research focus on urbanization and inequality, urban poverty, slums, migrants, housing the poor, urban governance, land use, institutional bias, and social and environmental justice in China, the Asia-Pacific, and emerging countries. Her articles have appeared in PLoS ONEScientific ReportsEnvironment and Planning A, Urban Geography, Urban Studies, CitiesHabitat InternationalArea, Acta Geographica Sinica, and many other journals. She co-edited Locating Right to the City in the Global South (Routledge 2013) and “Interrogating unequal rights to the Chinese city” (Special Issue), and currently leads another edited Focus Section on migration and justice. Her research has been funded by the National Geographic Society, National Natural Science Foundation of China, Urban China Research Network, and MSU (IRGP-New Faculty Grant, CASID, HARP, and DFI). Her current research projects include a new book on China’s urban poverty and a documentary on the hidden slums in China.

Dr. Chen serves on the editorial boards of The Professional Geographer and Journal of Urban Affairs and has served as an ad hoc reviewer for over 40 academic journals, many programs, and several book publishers. She served as secretary, vice-chair, and chair of the China Geography Specialty Group (CGSG) of the American Association of Geographers (AAG), 2012-2015. She is elected faculty representative for East Asia on the MSU Asian Studies Advisory Council and a member of the department Diversity Committee. Her professional service also includes over a hundred organized sessions and workshops, invited talks, and conference presentations. She has taught a wide range of undergraduate and graduate-level courses on economic geography and urban geography, globalization, poverty and inequality, people and environment, theories and methods in geography, Asia-Pacific and urban China, including capstone courses, small, large, and Honors sections. She has given TV interviews and written op-eds for key policy forums.

Guo has advised over a dozen graduate students, as committee chair, committee member, or informal advisor, and has mentored numerous visiting scholars, research interns, and other student collaborators. She is currently accepting graduate students. 


Dr. Chen’s research activities focus on the dynamics, spatial manifestations, and social and environmental consequences of the urban transformations in China, emerging countries, and the Asia-Pacific. In particular, her work explores four broad themes: 1) theorizing the nexus of urbanization, inequality, poverty, and justice in emerging urban contexts; 2) identifying the drivers of changing inequalities, the barriers of equity (such as institutional bias), and their pathways to affect the complex of socioeconomic differentiations, inequality, and justice on multiple geographic scales (across and within cities as well as among social groups); 3) measuring, mapping, and visualizing the changing geographies of inequality and poverty and exploring slum geographies; and 4) evaluating policy responses in housing, welfare, planning, and other areas that are relevant to the poor and marginalized.

Trained as an urban and economic geographer, planner, and spatial analyst, she employs a mixed methodology involving quantitative and qualitative approaches that include intensive fieldwork, household surveys and interviews, and spatial and statistical analyses of a combination of census, socio-economic statistics, survey data, remote sensing, and land-use data. She is interested in using visual materials to gain integrated and yet creative insights into the socio-spatial, economic, and environmental dimensions of rapid urban changes. She was one of the first geographers to study and document urban poverty in a post-reform Chinese city based on extensive fieldwork (and author of likely first geography thesis on that topic, which became the reason for a Ph.D. dissertation).

Her dissertation was on the changing landscape of urban poverty in post-reform China. Her prior and current projects include completed projects on urban expansion and inequality in coastal China, an ongoing book project on urban poverty in China, a research project on urbanization, inequality, and socio-environmental justice in coastal and western China, and a documentary project on the slum geography in Mainland China in comparison with Hong Kong. She also has worked/collaborated on a number of other projects on topics ranging from the global financial industry, regional inequality, city and neighborhood governance, and urban environment to housing issues (stratification, inequality, for the poor, etc.) in China. Her work has continued to focus on poverty, inequality, and justice for the past over ten years.