Investigating the World

The social sciences not only help us understand the world around us. Political scientists, social workers, journalists, economists, anthropologists and other social scientists undertake crucial work that impacts and improves the world around us.

Social science involves the systematic and evidence-based study of the social world — encompassing all of the political, economic, legal, technological and cultural ideas, structures and processes that we create to live together as a society.

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Social Sciences News

The Latest

In On Wisconsin Magazine: From Wisconsin, with humor

Charlie Berens (BA'09 Journalism & Mass Communication, Geography) leans into his Badger State roots — and accent — to deliver the Manitowoc Minute, a comedic take on the news.

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New Center Prepares for Success

The Public Leadership Board for the Tommy G. Thompson Center on Public Leadership took action on a number of important items that will set the stage for the Center's success.

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In On Wisconsin Magazine: Beata Nelson

Psychology major Beata Nelson began her swimming journey where any kid who loves the water might: at the neighborhood pool. Time spent there playing with friends quickly grew into swimming on club teams, competing for her high school, and committing to Wisconsin. And once a Badger, she found that her teammates offered the strongest support system she’d ever experienced.

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Departments, Programs & Professional Schools

Click to view all academic degree-granting program in the Social Sciences division.

Afro-American Studies, Department of

The Department of Afro-American Studies is committed to bringing academic research to the broadest possible audience, within and beyond the walls of the university. The department believes that the deepest understanding of the complex reality of race in America requires a truly interdisciplinary approach, one that draws on history and literature, the social sciences and the arts.

Department Chair: Christina Greene 

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American Indian Studies Program

The American Indian Studies Program works to foster an environment in which the university community can discover, examine, and appreciate the cultures, traditions, and values that reflect the many contributions American Indians have made and continue to make to the quality of life in contemporary society.

Director: Roberta Hill

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Anthropology, Department of

The Department of Anthropology consists of several subfields, including: archaeology; biological anthropology; and sociocultural anthropology.  Comparative and empirical work, and fieldwork in particular, are the hallmarks of anthropology at UW-Madison.

Department Chair: Sissel Schroeder

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Asian American Studies Program

The Asian American Studies Program is an interdisciplinary program that focuses on the scholarship and experiences of Americans, Pacific Islanders, and immigrants to the United States from Asian heritage groups. The Program sheds light on Asian American experiences and concerns, both historically and in contemporary society.

Director: Leslie Bow

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Chican@ and Latin@ Studies Program

The Program in Chican@ and Latin@ Studies offers a systematic and interdisciplinary analysis of Mexican-and Latin-American-origin people, cultures, and collectivities within the United States. The program is designed to provide students with a broad knowledge base and the intellectual tools to understand the unity and diversity of U.S. Latina/o populations.

Associate Director: Ben Marquez

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Communication Arts, Department of

The Department of Communication Arts offers two tracks of study at the undergraduate level: Rhetoric and Communication Science, and Radio-TV-Film. At the graduate level, degrees are offered in Media and Cultural Studies, Rhetoric, Politics, & Culture, Film, and Communication Science. 

Department Chair: Michael Xenos

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Criminal Justice Certificate Program

The Criminal Justice Certificate Program focuses on the causes of crime and delinquency, examine fundamental concepts underlying the practice of justice, and analyze the impact of crime on our society. The inner workings of criminal justice agencies are reviewed through an internship component and options for controlling crime are surveyed. Students are challenged to consider new ways of preventing and handling crime. Studies are completed in tandem with a chosen major.

Director: Alan Rubel

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Economics, Department of

The Department of Economics is a top teaching and research department comprised of a dedicated group of faculty, staff and students who lead the field in current economic issues. The mission of the department is to understand the decisions of businesses and consumers as well as the implications and causes of contemporary economic issues by developing a systematic and thorough understanding of precisely how economic systems operate.

Department Chair: Ananth Seshadri

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Geography, Department of

Scholarly work in the Geography Department is organized into four major thematic areas: physical geography, people-environmental studies, cartography and GIS, and human geography.

Department Chair: Lisa Naughton

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Honors Program

The L&S Honors Program serves over 1,300 students in the College of Letters and Science with an enriched undergraduate curriculum. Students in the program pursue the Honors in the Liberal Arts, Honors in the Major or Comprehensive Honors Degrees. The program began in response to a 1958 petition by students seeking more challenging work and opportunities to "delve more deeply" into their fields of interest.

Director: Sabine Gross

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Information School (iSchool)

The Information School (Formally the School of Library & Information Studies) exists to educate professionals to bring together information in all its cultural forms and the people who need or want it. The iSchool at UW-Madison contributes to individual and collective knowledge, productivity, and well-being; and creates and disseminates knowledge about recordable information.

Director: Kristin Eschenfelder

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Journalism & Mass Communication, School of (SJMC)

As one of the oldest journalism programs in the nation, the School of Journalism & Mass Communication also stands as one of the best. With a rare blend of leading-edge research and professional training, the J-School is uncommon in its service to students and to the body of knowledge in mass communication.

Director: Hemant Shah

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La Follette School of Public Affairs

The La Follette School of Public Affairs is a leading academic institution in improving the design, implementation, and evaluation of public policy and the practice of governance worldwide. The school produces and publishes innovative multidisciplinary policy and management research; trains, mentors, and educates students interested in domestic and international policy and governance in public, non-profit, and private settings; and informs the practice of public affairs locally, nationally, and globally by disseminating knowledge to practitioners and to the broader public.

Director: Donald Moynihan

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Legal Studies Program

The Legal Studies Program's mission is to provide a liberal education across traditional disciplines, focusing on the theory and operation of law and legal institutions. The courses in the Legal Studies major expose students to the many facets of law as a social phenomenon - its evolution, function, motivating ideas and effects.

Director: Alan Rubel

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Planning and Landscape Architecture, Department of

Department of Planning and Landscape Architecture faculty and students have a long history of studying and contributing to applied research across a broad spectrum of planning issues here in Wisconsin and across the globe.

Planning and Landscape Architecture is the product of two previously separate academic departments that merged in summer 2017: The Department of Urban and Regional Planning and the Department of Landscape Architecture.

Department Chair: Ken Genskow

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Political Science, Department of

The Political Science Department is one of the nation's oldest and most respected programs. The department is highly ranked in national surveys, and its award-winning faculty are known for innovative research on the discipline's most current and important questions.

Department Chair: John Zumbrunnen

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Psychology, Department of

The Department of Psychology has established strong traditions of excellence in research, teaching, and in the training the next generation of psychological scientists. Faculty and students conduct cutting-edge, award-winning research that is at the forefront of discoveries in the field – research that both defines and shapes the future of psychological science. 

Department Chair: Hill Goldsmith

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Social Work, School of

The School of Social Work seeks to enhance human well-being and promote social and economic justice for people who are disadvantaged to achieve an equitable, healthy, and productive society.

Director: Stephanie Robert

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Sociology, Department of

The Department of Sociology consistently ranks as one of the top Sociology departments in the country.  The department excels in a wide variety of intellectual pursuits, including research, teaching, and public service. 

Students have a wide range of interests reflecting disparate kinds of expertise in aging and the life course, class analysis, demography, economic sociology, education, ethnomethodology and conversation analysis, family, gender, organizations, political sociology, social psychology, stratification, science and technology, and many other arenas of inquiry. 

Department Chair: James Raymo

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Interdisciplinary Centers, Institutes & Special Projects

Click to view all Social Sciences interdisciplinary centers and institutes. 

Aging, Institute on

The UW-Madison Institute on Aging focuses on addressing the problems of aging, which include diseases and impairments (e.g., osteoporosis, dementia, Parkinson's, glaucoma, mobility problems) and the challenges of later life (e.g., widowhood, retirement, caregiving, relocation) as well as the potential of aging, which refers to the notable strengths, resources, and vitality of those in their 70's and beyond. 

Director: Carol Ryff

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Child Welfare Policy and Practice, Center on (CCWPP)

The Center on Child Welfare Policy and Practice (CCWPP) is a joint effort between the School of Social Work (SSW) and the Institute for Research on Poverty (IRP) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The CCWPP engages in inter-disciplinary efforts to inform child welfare policy and practice knowledge through enhanced collaboration and communication among researchers, policymakers, and practitioners. 

Center Co-Directors: Kristen Shook-Slack and Jennifer L. Noyes

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Communications & Democracy, Center for

The Center for Communication and Democracy is a research and action project at UW-Madison. The goals of the center are to study how citizens can use new communications technologies to advance democratic discussion and civic participation; to explore the relationships between geographic communities and the emerging world of cyberspace; to explore the structural relations among communications and information markets, the civic sector, and government to find relationships necessary to build and sustain a public sphere in communication that is not dominated by the market, while sustaining economic growth and technological innovation; and to ask what government policies are most appropriate for combining the vibrancy of the market with the common needs of citizens in the sphere of communication.

Director: Lewis Friedland


Communication Arts Instructional Media Center

The Instructional Media Center is the media hub of the Communication Arts Department. In addition to providing equipment and computer lab facilities for Communication Arts media production students, the IMC provides technical assistance to the graduate students, faculty, and staff of the department.

Supervisor: Erik Gunneson

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Communication Research, Center for

The Center for Communication Research is dedicated to promoting communication research at the University of Wisconsin and beyond.  Situated within the UW’s Department of Communication Arts and housed in Vilas Hall, the Center is staffed by the Department’s Communication Science faculty and graduate students.

Director: Michael Xenos

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COWS is a nonprofit think-and-do tank that promotes "high road" solutions to social problems. These treat shared growth and opportunity, environmental sustainability, and resilient democratic institutions as necessary and achievable complements in human development. Working with business, government, labor, and communities, COWS tries out new ideas, tests their effectiveness, and disseminates those with promise. 

Director: Joel Rogers

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Demography and Ecology, Center for

The Center for Demography and Ecology is a multi-disciplinary faculty research cooperative for social scientific demographic research whose membership includes sociologists, rural sociologists, economists, epidemiologists, and statisticians. 

Director: James Raymo

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Demography of Health and Aging, Center for (CDHA)

The Center for Demography of Health and Aging (CDHA) at the University of Wisconsin - Madison is one of fourteen P30 demography centers on aging sponsored by the National Institute on Aging. Major research themes include: midlife development and aging, economics of population aging, inequalities in health and aging, and international comparative studies of health and aging.

Director: Alberto Palloni

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Elections Research Center

The Elections Research Center fosters cutting edge academic analysis of national and state elections to further the scholarly understanding of factors that influence voter decision-making and election outcomes. It continues a long tradition of excellence in elections-related study at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Director: Barry Burden

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Environmental Communication and Education Studies, Center for

Havens Center for the Study of Social Structure and Social Change

Established in the Sociology Department in 1984, the Havens Center for the Study of Social Structure and Social Change is dedicated to promoting intellectual reflection and exchange in the critical traditions of social thought, both within the academy as well as between it and the broader community. By fostering such interaction, the Havens Center seeks to contribute to the development of a society openly committed to reason, democracy, equality, and freedom. 

Director: Erik Olin Wright

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Harlow Center for Biological Psychology

The Harlow Center for Biological Psychology is located on the campus of the University of Wisconsin-Madison. It is administered through the Department of Psychology and has long been home to internationally recognized research on behavioral and developmental psychology. The Harlow Center is affiliated with, but independent from, the adjacent Wisconsin Primate Research Center.

Director: Christopher Coe

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Health Economics Research Center

Healthy Minds, Center for (CHM)

What if our world were a kinder, wiser, more compassionate place? A place where we exercise our minds just like we exercise our bodies? A place where transforming your mind not only improves your own well-being, but cascades to the well-being of others in your community and around the globe?

We’re making this vision a reality at the Center for Healthy Minds (CHM) at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. Faced with mental and physical health challenges at a global scale, we conduct rigorous scientific research to bring new insights and tools aimed at improving the well-being of people of all backgrounds and ages.

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History of Cartography Project

The History of Cartography Project is a research, editorial, and publishing venture drawing international attention to the history of maps and mapping. The Project's major work is the multi-volume History of Cartography series. Its interdisciplinary approach brings together scholars in the arts, sciences, and humanities.

Director: Matthew Edney

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History of Print and Digital Culture, Center for the

For nearly twenty years the Center for the History of Print and Digital Culture has been fostering the interdisciplinary study of print, through lectures and colloquia, biennial conferences, and the University of Wisconsin Press series "Print Culture History in Modern America." The Center encourages scholarly work on the authorship, reading, publication and distribution of print--and now digital--materials, produced by those at both the center and the periphery of power.

Director: Jonathan Senchyne

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Holtz Center for Science & Technology Studies

The Robert F. and Jean E. Holtz Center for Science and Technology Studies seeks to understand how science and technology shape human lives and livelihoods and how society and culture, in turn, shape the development of science and technology. By focusing scholarly attention on science and technology as human institutions, situated in wider historical, social, and political contexts, the Center provides insights into the relationship between science and technology and such basic categories of social thought as race and gender, poverty and development, trust and credibility, participation and democracy, health and pathology, risk and uncertainty, globalization, and environmental protection.

Director: Samer Alatout

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Journalism Ethics, Center for

The Center for Journalism Ethics aims to advance the ethical standards and practices of democratic journalism through discussion, research, teaching, professional outreach, and newsroom partnerships. The Center is a voice for journalistic integrity, a forum for informed debate, and an incubator for new ideas and practices.

Director: Katy Culver

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Law, Society, and Justice, Center for

The University of Wisconsin-Madison has long been recognized as a center for interdisciplinary studies related to law and legal institutions. The Center for Law, Society, and Justice (CLSJ) is the organizational home for academic programs related to law and legal institutions, other than the programs offered by the University of Wisconsin Law School. It currently houses the Legal Studies Program and the Criminal Justice Certificate Program. 

Director: Alan Rubel

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Liberal Democracy, Center for the Study of

The Wisconsin Center for the Study of Liberal Democracy, located at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, was founded in the fall of 2006 by a core group of Madison faculty members with a diversity of perspectives. The Center's main objective is to probe the nature and prospects of liberal democracy and its core principles, practices, and institutions.

Co-Directors: Richard Avramenko and John Sharpless

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Mass Communication Research Center

The goal of this graduate student and faculty collaborative is to integrate scholarship from communications, political science, psychology and sociology to investigate the effects of mass media on political judgment and reasoning. This working group has a long history in the school, where it has been a center of research activity focusing on media and politics for over 35 years.

Director: Dhavan Shah

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Politics, Center for the Study of

The Wisconsin NewsLab is a 2,500 square foot media analysis facility located at the center of the UW – Madison Campus. NewsLab is equipped with 35 Windows XP workstations each of them capable of digitizing video from DVD, video cassette, or other digital media. News is gathered, sorted, and archived automatically by NewsLab's InfoSite system. Staff then analyzes each segment answering questions provided by researchers.

Co-Directors: Kenneth Goldstein, James Fowler

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Poverty, Institute for Research on (IRP)

IRP is a center for interdisciplinary research into the causes, consequences, and cures of poverty and social inequality in the United States. As one of three National Poverty Research Centers sponsored by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, IRP has a particular interest in poverty and family welfare in Wisconsin and as well as the nation.

Director: Lonnie Berger

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Psychology Research and Training Clinic

The Psychology Research and Training Clinic has existed for more than thirty years and has established a reputation for quality service. The success of the clinic is the result of both the ongoing training in advanced treatment methods as well as the extensive time dedicated to each case by the therapist of his or her supervisor.

Director: Linnea Burk

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Social Science Computing Cooperative (SSCC)

The Social Science Computing Cooperative provides computer services for the Social Sciences. The Cooperative proper is made up of research agencies, departments and one School which contribute to the cooperative and receive services in return. However, the SSCC also provides some services to anyone in the Social Science Division of the University, including an instructional computer lab.

Director: Nancy McDermott

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Social Science Research Services (SSRS)

Social Science Research Services (SSRS) serves social science researchers in the College of Letters and Science. The central function of SSRS is to provide specialized, high quality services to advance interdisciplinary social science research at the UW-Madison. SSRS provides an administrative "umbrella" to coordinate a variety of service-providing units. Any social science researcher or unit wishing to utilize the services provided through SSRS is welcome to contact us to determine the services that are available to them.

Director: Janet Clear

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State, Local, and Tribal Governance, Wisconsin Center for

The Wisconsin Center for State, Local and Tribal Governance began in 1995 to house, in one spot, the numerous outreach efforts provided by La Follette School of Public Affairs professors who work with mayors, communities, tribes and others on issues such as youth violence, intergovernmental relations, leadership, personnel policies and more.

Director: Dennis Dresang

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Survey Center (UWSC)

For over 25 years, the University of Wisconsin Survey Center (UWSC) has provided a broad range of high quality survey research services to the UW faculty, staff and administrators, governmental agencies, and not-for-profit organizations. The Center helps design and implement all components of a survey ranging from questionnaire design and layout to data collection to report writing and analysis.

Director: Nora Schaeffer

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Wisconsin State Cartographer's Office (SCO)

The State Cartographer’s Office (SCO) is Wisconsin’s resource for information about maps, cartography, geographic information systems (GIS), land information systems (LIS), and geospatial technology. The office supports the state's geospatial community through presentations and educational workshops, technical consulting, print and digital publications, web-based catalogs and data services, and information about events, jobs and emerging trends.

Wisconsin State Cartographer: Howard Veregin

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Top-ranked programs

The La Follette School of Public Affairs is ranked 13th among 272 graduate programs in public affairs, according to U.S. News and World Report’s 2016 rankings. It also ranked in the top 12 for four specialty areas, including second in Social Policy.

Five Things You Need to Know about the Social Sciences


Social science is the study of life — of society and the ways humans behave and influence the world.

Five Things You Need to Know about the Social Sciences


The social sciences help explain events beyond our immediate experiences, from the causes of unemployment to what makes people happy.

Five Things You Need to Know about the Social Sciences


Social sciences do much more than study the obvious.

Five Things You Need to Know about the Social Sciences


Social sciences can change the world! Social scientists help solve problems such as political unrest, crime, energy crises, economic instability and health issues.

Five Things You Need to Know about the Social Sciences


Social sciences are just as important as STEM; they provide insights into how science and innovation work.

Careers in the Social Sciences

For me, it was the experiences in the community surrounding the classes. It complemented them tremendously.

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