Students preparing for their graduation ceremony at Canterbury Cathedral

Environmental Social Science - MSc


The Environmental Social Science programmes are interdepartmental and benefit from expertise found across the Faculty of Social Sciences.



Social science perspectives are crucial to understanding and solving environmental problems. Human behaviour produces many elements of the ‘natural’ environment, from landscapes to floods and famines. Local and national policies and international agreements regulate the environmental practices of corporations, governments and households. The social sciences have a great deal to contribute to understanding what have become defined as environmental issues, and what measures can most effectively tackle them.

The multidisciplinary Environmental Social Science programmes draw on the contributions of Anthropology, Conservation and Ecology, Law, Social Policy and Sociology. In each of these disciplines, Kent is very active in research. The programmes therefore build upon a strong base.

Think Kent video series

Drawing on her 2012 book ‘The Cosmopolitanization of Science’, Dr Joy Zhang, Senior Lecturer in Sociology at the University of Kent, uses China’s experience in stem cell research as an example to demonstrate how actors from the Global South can assume a more contributory role in steering global scientific norms.

National ratings

In the Research Excellence Framework (REF) 2014, research by the School of Social Policy, Sociology and Social Research was ranked 2nd for research power in the UK. The School was also placed 3rd for research intensity, 5th for research impact and 5th for research quality.

An impressive 94% of our research-active staff submitted to the REF and 99% of our research was judged to be of international quality. The School’s environment was judged to be conducive to supporting the development of world-leading research, gaining the highest possible score of 100%.

Course structure

This interdisciplinary programme introduces you to social science perspectives on environmental issues. It draws on sociology, politics, social policy, anthropology and law. The dissertation is a chance for you to make a specialised study of a topic that interests you, and we encourage first-hand research. The programme is suitable for graduates with a wide range of first degrees.


The following modules are indicative of those offered on this programme. This list is based on the current curriculum and may change year to year in response to new curriculum developments and innovation.  Most programmes will require you to study a combination of compulsory and optional modules. You may also have the option to take modules from other programmes so that you may customise your programme and explore other subject areas that interest you.

Modules may include Credits

The law relating to international trade and the environment represents a key element in the legal response to the need to protect the environment and to secure broader environmental policy objectives such as sustainable development. Whilst these are central elements in the Environmental Law and Policy Programme, they are also of considerable relevance to students following Programmes in International Commercial Law, Public International Law and European Law given the importance of environmental regulation in different areas of international law. The module has been structured to provide a balanced coverage of the international rules and institutions which address the relationship between freedom of trade and environmental protection. Within this structure, illustrations are provided of many of the key areas in case studies on topical and contentious issues.

Topics Covered

• introduction to the law and economics of environmental protection and economic liberalization

• introduction to the law and institutions of the World Trade Organisation

• GATT 1994 and the protection of the environment

• the SPS Agreement, the TBT Agreement and the protection of human, animal and plant life and health

• TRIPS, biotechnology and biological diversity

• GATS and the environment

• MEAS and the WTO

• Doha negotiations on trade and environment

• case studies: tuna/dolphins, shrimp/turtles, asbestos, beef/hormones, genetically modified products

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This module is particularly concerned with the forms and outcomes of the political contention and mobilisation around environmental issues, ranging from pressure groups, formal environmental movement organisations and Green parties to local environmental activism and radical environmental protest. It also considers the relationship between democracy and the environment: is democracy good for the environment? Would more deliberative forms of democracy improve matters? The approach is cross-nationally comparative and will also consider issues of global environmental politics.

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The aims of this module are twofold:

First, to provide students with the opportunity to independently carry out an in-depth inquiry to investigate a research question(s) of their choice, producing a coherent review of the relevant literature, a logical discussion and a clearly communicated set of conclusions in the form of a dissertation.

Second, to prepare students to become ‘research-minded’ practitioners in order that they have the capacity to undertake research in practice settings and/or take a lead role in supervising others in such work.

The following represents the likely format for curriculum delivery:

In mid-November, there will be a two-hour workshop, which will outline the aims, the structure, the process of the dissertation. During the spring term, the students will finalise their proposal with their chosen supervisor. If the dissertation requires ethical research approval, an application will be submitted to the school research ethics committee by the beginning of the summer term. During the summer term and vacation, students will meet their supervisor every fortnight to discuss the progress of their dissertation. The supervisors will provide feedback on written work and will set monthly work plans and targets for the students. The dissertation topic will relate to a key question, issue and problem within social science.

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Teaching and Assessment

The programme is assessed by coursework (normally one 5,000-word essay per module) and the dissertation.

Programme aims

This programme aims to:

  • introduce you to the differing perspectives on environmental issues of the various social science disciplines
  • develop your knowledge and understanding of environmental issues from a social science perspective
  • acquaint you with the methods and procedures of social scientific investigation
  • give you a practical introduction to research design so as to enable you to conceive and execute a social scientific research project on an environmental topic, whether as part of further academic work or in the course of non-academic employment with any of a variety of public agencies and private corporations.

Learning outcomes

Knowledge and understanding

You will gain knowledge and understanding of:

  • the theoretical problems of social scientific inquiry and their relationship to research on environmental issues
  • a basic grounding in the procedures (quantitative and qualitative) used to investigate a wide range of practical and substantive environmental issues
  • the opportunity to develop transferable employment-related skills through groupwork, presentations and the use of information technologies
  • socialisation into the research community through close working relationships between staff and students
  • practical research-related skills
  • a capacity to undertake independent research.


Building on Kent’s success as the region’s leading institution for student employability, we place considerable emphasis on you gaining specialist knowledge in your chosen subject alongside core transferable skills. We ensure that you develop the skills and competences that employers are looking for including: research and analysis; policy development and interpretation; independent thought; writing and presentation as well as time management and leadership skills. You also become fully involved in the professional research culture of the School. A postgraduate degree in the area of Environmental Social Science is a particularly flexible and valuable qualification that can lead to many exciting opportunities and professions.

Recent graduates have gone on to pursue careers in environmental law, community projects, research, education, advocacy and social policy at both local and central government levels.

Study support

Postgraduate resources

Our postgraduate students have access to dedicated office space within the Department and are able to take advantage of excellent library and computing facilities. Where appropriate, research students are encouraged to expand their experience by teaching part-time in the School.

Dynamic publishing culture

Staff publish regularly and widely in journals, conference proceedings and books. Among others, they have recently contributed to: Environmental Politics; Global Environmental Change; Human Organization; Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute; and Sociology of Health and Illness.

Global Skills Award

All students registered for a taught Master's programme are eligible to apply for a place on our Global Skills Award Programme. The programme is designed to broaden your understanding of global issues and current affairs as well as to develop personal skills which will enhance your employability.  

Entry requirements

A good honours degree in a relevant subject or equivalent vocational experience.

All applicants are considered on an individual basis and additional qualifications, and professional qualifications and experience will also be taken into account when considering applications. 

International students

Please see our International Student website for entry requirements by country and other relevant information for your country. 

English language entry requirements

The University requires all non-native speakers of English to reach a minimum standard of proficiency in written and spoken English before beginning a postgraduate degree. Certain subjects require a higher level.

For detailed information see our English language requirements web pages. 

Need help with English?

Please note that if you are required to meet an English language condition, we offer a number of pre-sessional courses in English for Academic Purposes through Kent International Pathways.

Research areas

We offer research supervision across a broad range of topics. We are especially interested in applications that include proposals to investigate the social dimensions of environmental issues in the countries in which we have area expertise, and topics in environmental politics and environmental movements.

Staff research interests

Full details of staff research interests can be found on the School's website.

Professor Adam Burgess: Professor of Risk Research

Communications; mass media; risk.

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Professor William Howarth: Professor of Environmental Law

Environmental law; conservation of aquatic environment and ecosystems.

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Dr Jeremy Kendall: Senior Lecturer in Social Policy

NGOs, charities, voluntary organisations and civil society.

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Dr Rajindra K Puri: Senior Lecturer in Environmental Anthropology

Historical ecology; knowledge transmission; adaptation to climate change; wildlife trade; protected areas; South-east Asia; Borneo.

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Professor Christopher Rootes: Professor of Environmental Politics and Political Sociology

Environmental politics; protest, social and political movements; environmental citizenship; politics of climate change. 

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Dr Joy Zhang: Senior Lecturer in Sociology

Sociology of science, medicine, the environment and globalisation, especially in China.

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The 2018/19 annual tuition fees for this programme are:

Environmental Social Science - Taught MSc at Canterbury:
UK/EU Overseas
Full-time £7300 £15200
Part-time £3650 £7600

For students continuing on this programme fees will increase year on year by no more than RPI + 3% in each academic year of study except where regulated.* If you are uncertain about your fee status please contact

General additional costs

Find out more about general additional costs that you may pay when studying at Kent. 


Search our scholarships finder for possible funding opportunities. You may find it helpful to look at both: