School of Social Ecology

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Social Ecology I building

The School of Social Ecology (SSE) is one of the schools of the University of California, Irvine (UCI). The School of Social Ecology at UC Irvine currently enrolls nearly 3,000 students and is the third largest school at UCI by student population.[1][2] Students in the social ecology program at UCI undergo a multidisciplinary program that examines real-world social and environmental issues and that involves the students in off-campus internships as well as on-campus courses.[1][3] SSE offers undergraduate and graduate degrees, including bachelor’s, professional master’s, and Ph.D.s, effectively preparing future leaders in education, research, public policy, and community action. The School also trains future experts in public health and safety, community development, social psychology, urban planning, and criminology, providing California, the nation, and the world with a well-trained cadre of expert practitioners who make significant contributions to communities by informing social policy and making institutions more equitable and effective.

Internationally recognized for developing innovative approaches to understanding and addressing pressing social problems, SSE faculty and students examine human behavior in broad psychological, social, political, and institutional contexts. Addressing issues ranging from global poverty to prison overcrowding, from gang violence to healthy child development, and from sustainable urbanism to community empowerment, Social Ecology faculty, students, and research centers move beyond traditional disciplinary boundaries to link basic theory and research with community problem solving in innovative and consequential ways.[4]

The school has three departments: Criminology, Law and Society; Psychology and Social Behavior; and Planning, Policy and Design.[2] It is also home to approximately 70 faculty, 2,500 undergraduate students, 300 graduate students, and over 20,000 alumni; it offers five undergraduate degrees and eight graduate degrees, including two professional degrees. SSE embraces the pursuit of theory development, the practical application of scholarly knowledge, the creation of empirically-based solutions, and civic engagement in the communities on which the school depends and to which it responds.

Conceptual Orientation[edit]

Social ecology studies relationships between people and their environment, often the interdependence of people, collectives and institutions. Evolving out of biological ecology, human ecology, systems theory and ecological psychology, social ecology takes a “broad, interdisciplinary perspective that gives greater attention to the social, psychological, institutional, and cultural contexts of people-environment relations than did earlier versions of human ecology.”[5]

As described by Stokols,[6] the core principles of social ecology embodied in the school include:

  • Multidimensional structure of human environments—physical & social, natural & built features; objective-material as well as perceived-symbolic (or semiotic); virtual & place-based features
  • Cross-disciplinary, multi-level, contextual analyses of people-environment relationships spanning proximal and distal scales (from narrow to broad spatial, sociocultural, and temporal scope)
  • Systems principles, especially feedback loops, interdependence of system elements, anticipating unintended side effects of public policies and environmental interventions
  • Translation of theory and research findings into community interventions and public policies
  • Privileging and combining both academic and non-academic perspectives, including scientists and academicians, lay citizens and community stakeholder groups, business leaders and other professional groups, and government decision makers.

Transdisciplinary values and orientation imbue the School’s research, education, and training. A major goal for the SSE is to educate scholars capable of synthesizing concepts and methods from different fields that pertain to particular research topics.


In 1970 Social Ecology was originally founded as an interdisciplinary program at UC Irvine founded by Arnold Binder.[7] In 1970, in response to high demand for more socially relevant research, the University of California, Irvine established the nation’s first academic unit of social ecology. Located in the “New Town” of Irvine, an hour south of Los Angeles, the Program in Social Ecology emphasized hands-on, cross-disciplinary research, education, and training. The Program, founded by Professor Arnold Binder, was committed to addressing social problems of the day by promoting research and training that crossed disciplinary boundaries and held direct relevance to public policy and social issues. The Program also encouraged students to apply theory and research to the study of community issues.[7] Since the beginning of the program in 1970, all students in the Social Ecology Program have been required to take field study internships with a community organization in order to graduate.[7]

By 1988, expanding enrollment and the strength of the Program combined with increasing administrative burdens and a contracting state budget prompted the Social Ecology faculty and administration to transform the Program into a School. By 1992, Social Ecology was a thriving school on campus with three multidisciplinary departments: Psychology & Social Behavior; Criminology, Law & Society; and Environmental Analysis & Design.[7]

In the following decades, SSE continued to expand its offerings and infrastructure, and further built its reputation for exemplary cross-disciplinary work.[8][9] In 1993, the School established the Department of Urban and Regional Planning and began awarding Master’s degrees in Urban and Regional Planning. A second Social Ecology building on campus opened in 1996, the same year that new Ph.D. programs in Urban and Regional Planning and Environmental Health Science and Policy were approved by the Academic Senate. In 2003, the Urban and Regional planning department and Ph.D. program adopted a new name—Planning, Policy and Design—to better reflect the department’s strengths and approach to the complexity of urban and regional issues. In 2009, PPD inaugurated an undergraduate major, a B.A. in Urban Studies.[7] In 2011, the Planning, Policy and Design launched its Master's in Public Policy program, which is co-managed with the School of Social Sciences. Social Ecology faculty members also have played an important role in helping to establish UCI’s Public Health Program and School of Law.


Criminology, Law and Society[edit]

The researchers and students in the Department of Criminology, Law and Society study three main pillars law making, law breaking and the justice system. As a part of law making students and faculty study "the social, political, economic and cultural factors that lead to the development of law and explain the structure of our legal system."[10] The study of law breaking studies the consequences and cause of crimes.[10] Finally, the study of justice system focuses on the current system of justice and how well it is working.[10]

Psychology and Social Behavior[edit]

Those in the Department of Psychology and Social Behavior research "developmental, social, personality, health, and legal aspects of psychology as well as biological, clinical, cultural, community, environmental, and ecological psychology."[10] The departmentt strives to understand the origins of human actions and how one's life and socio-cultural context effects that.[10]

Planning, Policy and Design[edit]

The Department of Planning, Policy and Design's mission is to teach and do scholarship and social action in the areas of the natural environment, the built community and public policy.[10] The department is especially centered on the intersection of these three fields. The students and researchers in the department explore "practical solutions to problems at the interstices of environmental protection, social justice, and community health, well-being, and security."[10]

Programs and Degrees[edit]

Core courses introduce B.A., M.A., and Ph.D. Social Ecology students to integrative concepts and methods drawn from systems theory and ecology, while also emphasizing the value of applying multiple disciplinary perspectives to the analysis of community problems. Students are both trained in research skills and prepared for community-oriented jobs.

The School recruits faculty members and graduate students trained in a variety of different fields spanning urban and regional planning, psychology and social behavior, criminology and law, demography, environmental sciences, and public health. SSE’s faculty include Distinguished Professor Elizabeth Loftus, known for her expertise on false memories.[11]


The School of Social Ecology offers 4 majors and 6 minors in a variety of topics relating to the population and their impact on society. The field study curriculum requires all undergraduate Social Ecology students to complete internships at local sites to encourage experiential learning and community-engaged scholarship.



  • Criminology, Law and Society
  • Environmental Design
  • Psychology and Social Behavior
  • Social Ecology
  • Urban and Regional Planning
  • Urban Studies


The School of Social Ecology offers 3 Professional Master's and 4 PhD degree programs.

Professional Master's Programs[edit]


Research Centers[edit]

SSE research centers focus on institutional, legal, political, environmental, and social issues.[12] SSE's centers include:

Center for Evidence-Based Corrections studies the prison system for adults and juveniles. The Center's research includes issues of rehabilitation, parole, and monitoring after offenders leave the prisons. This center's research is funded by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.[12]

Center in Law, Society and Culture (CLSC) researches how historical, social and cultural factors affect law. CLSC is an interdisciplinary research center between the Schools of Social Ecology, Social Sciences, and Humanities at UC Irvine.[12]

Center for Organizational Research (COR) is a multidisciplinary research center that has scholars from the schools of Social Ecology, Social Sciences, the Merage School of Business, and Information & Computer Sciences. COR researches organization methods and practices.[12]

Community Outreach Partnership Center (COPC) focuses on mitigating unequal planning and development in Southern California. COPC's work emphasizes collaborative planning processes and offers opportunities for students involvement with local communities.[12]

Center for Psychology and Law focuses on the link between psychology and law in society. The center helps apply what is found in the psychology of our society and apply it to the practice of law and the legal system in general.[12]

Center for Unconventional Security Affairs (CUSA) was created to address issues of human and national security, beyond the traditional threat of war, that have arisen along with global environmental change, technological innovation, economic globalization, and the spread of democracy.[12]

The Newkirk Center for Science and Society is committed to sharing research with the public and policy makers so informed decisions can be made. The Newkirk Center holds workshops and town hall meetings as part of their outreach efforts.[12]

Social ecology at other academic institutions[edit]

The UCI School of Social Ecology has several international peers that combine a broad definition of “environmental studies” with analyses of social processes, biological considerations, and the physical environment. A number of social ecology degree-granting programs and research institutes in Europe and other parts of the world shape the global evolution of the social ecological paradigm. For example, see:

Most of the 120 listed programs at the link below are in human ecology, but many overlap with social ecology-

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Muller, Martin (October 21, 1996), Problem-Solvers: UC Irvine School of Social Ecology Applies Research to Real-Life Issues, Los Angeles Times 
  2. ^ a b Fact Sheet: School of Social Ecology, UC Irvine Today (UC Irvine), retrieved 2008-02-22 
  3. ^ Klein, Julie Thompson (1990), Interdisciplinarity: history, theory, and practice, Wayne State University Press, pp. 174–175, ISBN 978-0-8143-2088-4 
  4. ^ “From the Dean”, UC Irvine Social Ecology Website (UC Irvine), retrieved 2014-06-16
  5. ^ Stokols, Daniel. "Establishing and maintaining healthy environments: toward a social ecology of health promotion." American Psychologist 47.1 (1992): 6. Available at:
  6. ^ Stokols, Daniel. "Translating social ecological theory into guidelines for community health promotion." American journal of health promotion 10.4 (1996): 282-298. Available at:
  7. ^ a b c d e Conceptual Social Ecology, UC Irvine Social Ecology Website (UC Irvine), retrieved 2014-04-29 
  8. ^ For example, American Psychological Society Observer, lauded the Psychology and Social Behavior department as "one of the most successful interdisciplinary arenas in the field and a good example of a growing trend in behavioral research" (1999)
  9. ^ The Planning, Policy and Design department ranked at the top of measures of productivity in a 2012 Planetizen survey of 372 planning educators from accredited planning schools. See
  10. ^ a b c d e f g Departments, UC Irvine School of Social Ecology (UC Irvine), retrieved 2014-05-02 
  11. ^ Gottlieb, Jeff (December 1, 2004), UCI Professor Wins Big Award: Elizabeth Loftus has shown memory to be malleable, thus casting doubt on sensitive cases, Los Angeles Times 
  12. ^ a b c d e f g h Research Centers in the School of Social Ecology, UC Irvine Social Ecology Website (UC Irvine), retrieved 2014-04-29 

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 33°38′47″N 117°50′20″W / 33.6463°N 117.839°W / 33.6463; -117.839