What is social science?


Social science disciplines

The Economic and Social Science Research Council (ESRC) funds research across a broad range of disciplines. These include the following disciplines.


Demography is the study of populations and population changes and trends, using resources such as statistics of births, deaths, and disease.

Area and development studies

Area and development studies is a multidisciplinary branch of the social sciences which addresses a range of social and economic issues associated with low and middle-income countries in different geographical regions.


Economics seeks to understand how individuals interact within the social structure, to address key questions about the production and exchange of goods and services.

Economic and social history

Economic and social history looks at past events to learn from history and better understand the processes of contemporary or near contemporary society.


Education is one of the most important social sciences, exploring how people learn and develop.

Environmental planning

Environmental planning explores the decision-making processes for managing relationships within and between human systems and natural systems, in order to manage these processes in an effective, transparent, and equitable manner.

Human geography

Human geography studies the world, its people, communities, and cultures, and differs from physical geography mainly in that it focuses on human activities and their impact, for instance on environmental change.


Linguistics focuses on how people communicate and create meaning through language. ESRC covers applied linguistics research in the areas of computational and corpus linguistics, psycholinguistics, sociolinguistics, discourse analysis, language acquisition and interdisciplinary social science research involving linguistics.

Management and business studies

Management and business studies explores a wide range of aspects relating to the activities and management of business, such as strategic and operational management, organisational psychology, employment relations, marketing, accounting, finance, logistics and productivity.

Politics and international studies

Politics focuses on democracy and the relationship between people and policy, at all levels up from the individual to a national and international level.

International studies is the study of relationships between countries, including the roles of other organisations.


Psychology studies the human mind and behaviour to try to understand how people and groups experience the world through various emotions, ideas, cognitive processes, and conscious states. ESRC also covers elements of mental and public health.

Science and technology studies

Science and technology studies is concerned with what scientists do, what their role is in our society, the history and culture of science, and the policies and debates that shape our modern scientific and technological world.

Social anthropology

Social anthropology is the study of how human societies and social structures are organised and understood.

Social policy

Social policy is an interdisciplinary and applied subject concerned with the analysis of societies’ responses to social need, focusing on aspects of society, economy, public and global health, and policy that are necessary to human existence, and how these can be provided.

Social work

Social work focuses on social change, problem solving in human relationships and the empowerment and liberation of people to enhance social justice. ESRC also covers broader social care for adults and children.

Social statistics, methods, and computing

Social statistics, methods and computing involves the collection and analysis of quantitative and qualitative social science data.

Socio legal studies

Socio legal studies focuses on the social, political, and economic influences and its impact on the law and the legal system.


Sociology involves groups of people, rather than individuals, and attempts to understand the way people relate to each other and function as a society or social subgroups.

Last updated: 31 May 2023

This is the website for UKRI: our seven research councils, Research England and Innovate UK. Let us know if you have feedback or would like to help improve our online products and services.