Environmental Social Science Researcher and Assistant

Social scientists and conservationists who are interested in the environment do research that is focused on the relationships and interaction between people and the environment. They may also be consulted on the social impacts a new development might have.

They study a very wide range of topics in a variety of environments, depending on their interests and the discipline or major subjects in which they have specialised. For example:

  • environmental psychologists may study the effects on the mood and behaviour of people when trees are planted in their neighbourhood or when a dump is sited where they live

  • community conservationists work with communities to foster nature conservation values within a community - conservationists work / liaise between protected areas and local communities to foster reciprocal relations and conservation values, to support biodiversity conservation and the sustainable use of natural resources

  • anthropologists study, for example, how rural communities use /wetlands during times of drought or unemployment / natural resources as part of their livelihoods

  • political scientists might write or study the effect of a new law giving responsibility for managing water to various communities

  • historians study interactions between people and their environment in the recent past

  • archaeologists study the distant past, using artefacts and sophisticated techniques such as carbon-dating to determine the relations between ancient people and their environment such as the food they ate and what substances they used to make decorations.

Social scientists share their findings with other researchers towards improving community and conservation practice. They also try to influence government policies and how communities manage their environments. To do this, they write policy briefs, scholarly and popular articles, present talks, and speak to the media.

Social scientists may work indoors, reading or studying artefacts, or outdoors collecting material for their studies. Scientists should be able to work long hours on their own, reading, writing and conducting their experiments. They also have to be able to work in teams with other experts, including, for example, natural scientists, educators, policy makers or biodiversity managers. Scientists may travel, both to do their research or to present their findings to stakeholders, policy makers and scientists locally and around the world. Social science research assistants help to collect data, for example doing interviews in the field, or assisting with putting data together and looking for particular information, patterns and themes in the data.


  • in universities, where they continue to carry out research

  • teach their subject in research institutions such as the HSRC, museums, development agencies and NGOs such as AWARD, which study the ways in which rural communities can be assisted to better look after their water and wetlands

  • SANParks

  • self-employment, set up a consulting business and conduct studies for clients including government or developers who need to understand the impacts of a proposed new development

Where to Study

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