Dr. Guo Chen

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


Guo Chen Personal Website: https://people.geo.msu.edu/guochen

Guo [pronunciation link]


Urban and Economic Geography (with a focus on Social, Economic, and Environmental Dynamics of Urban Transformations); Urban Poverty; Inequality; Housing for the Poor and Housing Rights; Slums; Migration and Migrants; Social Justice and Environmental Justice; Urbanization and Land Use; Neighborhood, Urban and Regional Governance; Waste Geographies and Informal Recycling; China, Asia-Pacific, Global South, and Emerging Countries; Justice and DEI in Geography; Asian and Asian American Geographies


Guo Chen, Dr. (she/her), is an Associate Professor of Geography and Global Urban Studies in the College of Social Science, a core faculty member of the Asian Pacific American (APA) Studies Program, and an affiliated faculty member of the Asian Studies Center, Environmental Science and Policy Program, and GenCen (as consulting and associated faculty of GJEC) at MSU. She holds a Ph.D. degree in Geography from Pennsylvania State University, a Master’s degree in Human Geography & Urban and Regional Planning, and a B.S. in Economic Geography & Regional Planning from Nanjing University. Guo is a recipient of a number of prestigious awards in research, teaching, leadership, and service, including a prestigious Wilson Center Fellowship (2017–2018), an AAG specialty group outstanding service award (2020), and several university-wide awards and distinctions. She is a recipient of the College of Social Science–Integrative Studies in Social Science Teaching Excellence Award (2010) and a university Lilly Fellow for faculty leadership and teaching excellence/innovation (2022–2023). Her recent awards include an MSU GenCen Inspiration Award-Professional Achievement Award in 2023 (a prestigious recognition of an individual each year whose unique impactful passion, inclusive action, and influence make outstanding contributions to gender equity and social justice, positively influencing the culture of Michigan State University) and an MSU Outstanding Women of Color Award–Trailblazer Award in 2024. She is the inaugural Editor in Human Geography/Nature and Society for The Professional Geographer. 

A human geographer with broad interests in urban, economic, critical, and environmental areas, she is also a teacher scholar and public intellectual who has authored and co-authored over fifty publications with a focus on inequality, urban poverty, housing rights for the poor, slums, migrants, urbanization and land use, urban governance, and social and environmental justice, including articles in  PLoS ONE, Scientific Reports, The Professional Geographer, Environment and Planning A, Urban Geography, Urban Studies, Cities, Area, Habitat International, Acta Geographica Sinica, and close to fifteen other journals.  She also writes about DEI and justice in Geography and Asian & Asian American Geographies. She is co-editor of Locating Right to the City in the Global South (Routledge 2013) and “Interrogating unequal rights to the Chinese city” (Environment and Planning A Special Issue 2012 based on her initiated sessions at the AAG meeting), as well as initiator and editor of a Focus Section for The Professional Geographer titled “Hidden Geographies” (issue 1 of 2023) featuring research articles on race, gender, ethnicity, class, nationality, citizenship, and social justice, by ten diverse scholars around the world. Her public scholarship includes many op-eds for key policy forums and her professional society, TV interview, and webinars. She penned the inaugural piece for the new Perspectives section of the AAG News in 2021. She has served on geography/urban studies flagship journals’ editorial boards (The Professional Geographer and Journal of Urban Affairs), serving as ad hoc reviewer for close to 50 journals, many programs and book publishers, and over a hundred organized professional sessions, invited talks, and conference presentations. 

Her scholarship and collaborative research have been funded by the National Geographic Society, the National Science Foundation (DDRI), the National Natural Science Foundation of China, the Mellon Foundation funded Urban China Research Network, the Woodrow Wilson Center, and various MSU awards (IRGP–New Faculty Grant, CASID, HARP, DFI, Honors College, and Asian Studies–Dr. Delia Koo Awards). Her current research projects include several manuscripts, an edited issue on “Hidden Geographies in Cities,” an edited issue on “Global Social and Environmental Justice: Intersections and Dialogues,” an edited book on DEI in Geography, and creative products including a documentary on the hidden slums.

Guo is actively involved in elected leadership roles in her professional community and at MSU. She served as elected Secretary, Vice-chair, and Chair of the China Geography Specialty Group (CGSG) of the American Association of Geographers (AAG), 2012-2015 and was an Elected Faculty Representative on the Asian Studies Advisory Council (2019­–2021). Her recent leadership at MSU includes serving as a founding member of the Diversity Committee and Chair of the first standing DEI Committee in her department (2021–22), Elected Faculty Advisor for Supporting Women in Geography (SWIG), an appointed faculty member and Elected Chairperson (2021–22) of the President’s Advisory Committee on Disability Issues (2021–2024), and an Elected Faculty Senator representing the College of Social Science at Faculty Senate (2023–25).

Mentoring and teaching for engaged learning is integral to her scholarship. As a teacher scholar, she has promoted a creative pedagogy with a critical engagement of visuals, documentaries, and simulations in nearly all of her over ten different undergraduate and graduate courses taught/designed in more than a decade, including an exit/capstone course for MSU Asian Studies Minor students and a recent Honors Research Seminar on global slums (https://people.geo.msu.edu/guochen/). Her undergraduate, graduate, and seminar courses cover a broad range of topics from economic geography, urban geography, globalization, poverty and inequality, migration and slums, and people and environment, to theories and methods in geography, geography of Asia-Pacific, and China and globalization, in small, large, and Honors sections, and as capstone courses. She has mentored close to forty graduate students and international visiting scholars (as mentor, informal mentor, or committee member), in addition to many undergraduate students and interns.

She accepts graduate students.


Dr. Chen’s prior research has focused on the dynamics, spatial manifestations and spatiality, and the social and environmental complexities of rapid urban transformations and their impacts and implications for disadvantaged groups in China, Global South, and emerging countries through an integrative and critical lens.  In particular, her work has explored four broad themes: 1) theorizing the nexus of urbanization, poverty, inequality, and social justice in emerging urban contexts from an historical and geographical perspective; 2) understanding inequality and inequities on multiple scales such as within and across cities as well as between social groups and identifying the structural/institutional bias and structures shaping inequalities and social injustice, i.e., through studies on housing differentiation, housing rights, and housing for the poor; 3) visualizing the hidden/changing landscape of urban poverty, deprivation, and exclusion of migrants and other vulnerable groups; and 4) evaluating and critiquing state and community policies that impact the poor and the marginalized.

Her recent work has included combining deep field knowledge with qualitative and creative methods to investigate the hidden intersectional geographies of inequity, exclusions, and social justice for rural-urban migrants and other groups based on long-term independent and collaborative research on poverty, informal recycling, waste geographies, migrants, and hidden slums in the Global South. She is also writing about DEI and justice in Geography and Asian and Asian American Geographies.

Trained as an urban and economic geographer, planner, and spatial analyst, Guo has employed a mixed methodology involving social theories and integrated quantitative and qualitative approaches that include intensive field work, surveys and interviews, archival research, and analyses of a combination of census, socioeconomic statistics, survey and interview data, remote sensing, and land-use data.  She has a long-term interest in critically engaging with visual materials to gain insights into the socio-spatial, economic, and social justice and environmental justice dimensions of rapid urban changes and urban transformations in the Global South. Guo likely authored the first geography graduate thesis (in Chinese language) documenting urban poverty in a post-reform Chinese city based on extensive fieldwork when she was a master’s student. 

Current and previous projects: 

Hidden Geographies

Asian and Asian American Geographies

Migration, migrants, informal recycling, and transnational knowledge network on waste geographies and informal recycling

Slum geographies in mainland China, Hong Kong, and the Global South

Urbanization, urban expansion, inequality, and socio-environmental justice in coastal and interior China and the Global South

The changing landscape of urban poverty in China and the urban poor in China

Other projects on topics ranging from globalization, city-regions, neighborhood governance, to migrants, housing issues, right to the city in China and the Global South, urban resilience, and justice and DEI in Geography