The social environment, social context, sociocultural context or milieu refers to the immediate physical and social setting in which people live or in which something happens or develops. It includes the culture that the individual was educated or lives in, and the people and institutions with whom they interact.[1] The interaction may be in person or through communication media, even anonymous or one-way,[2] and may not imply equality of social status. The social environment is a broader concept than that of social class or social circle.

The physical and social environment is a determining factor in active and healthy aging in place, being a central factor in the study of environmental gerontology.[3]

Moreover, the social environment is the setting where people live and interact. It includes the buildings and roads around them, the jobs available, and how money flows; relationships between people, like who has power and how different groups get along; and culture, like art, religion, and traditions. It includes the physical world and the way people relate to each other and their communities.[4]


Social network

Importance of positive social environments and relationships for parents

Family relationship

Where a child grows up and goes to school has a big impact on who they become friends with and how good those friendships are. Most of the time, kids make friends with people in their family or neighborhood. So, where parents choose to live, work, and send their kids to school can affect how healthy and happy their children are.[14]


People with the same social environment often develop a sense of social solidarity; people often tend to trust and help one another, and to congregate in social groups. They will often think in similar styles and patterns, even though the conclusions which they reach may differ.

Natural/artificial environment

In order to enrich their lives, people have used natural resources, and in the process have brought about many changes in the natural environment. Human settlements, roads, farmlands, dams, and many other elements have all developed through the process. All these man-made components are included in human cultural environment, Erving Goffman in particular emphasising the deeply social nature of the individual environment.[15] There are still many people living in villages and this is their social environment. A village is a township with production, living, ecology and culture. The state is trying to solve the problem of integrated rural development, which includes construction, expansion, and road building.[16]

Milieu/social structure

C. Wright Mills contrasted the immediate milieu of jobs/family/neighborhood with the wider formations of the social structure, highlighting in particular a distinction between "the personal troubles of milieu" and the "public crises of social structure".[17]

Emile Durkheim took a wider view of the social environment (milieu social), arguing that it contained internalized expectations and representations of social forces/social facts:[18] "Our whole social environment seems to be filled with forces which really exist only in our own minds"[19]collective representations.


Phenomenologists contrast two alternative visions of society, as a deterministic constraint (milieu) and as a nurturing shell (ambiance).[20]

Max Scheler distinguishes between milieu as an experienced value-world, and the objective social environment on which we draw to create the former, noting that the social environment can either foster or restrain our creation of a personal milieu.[21]

Social surgery

Pierre Janet saw neurosis in part as the product of the identified patient's social environment – family, social network, work etc. – and considered that in some instances what he termed "social surgery" to create a healthier environment could be a beneficial measure.[22]

Similar ideas have since been taken up in community psychiatry and family therapy.[23]

See also


  1. ^ Barnett, E; Casper, M (2001). "A definition of "social environment"". Am J Public Health. 91 (3): 465. doi:10.2105/ajph.91.3.465a. PMC 1446600. PMID 11249033.
  2. ^ Marjorie Taylor, Imaginary Companions (1999) p. 147
  3. ^ Sanchez-Gonzalez, D (2015). "Physical-social environments and aging population from environmental gerontology and geography. Socio-spatial implications in Latin America". Revista de Geografía Norte Grande. 60: 97–114. doi:10.4067/S0718-34022015000100006.
  4. ^ "Social Environment Definition". Law Insider. Retrieved April 3, 2024.
  5. ^ "Physical Environment: Examples & Types | StudySmarter". StudySmarter UK. Retrieved April 4, 2024.
  6. ^ Cash, Elizabeth; Toney-Butler, Tammy J. (2024), "Social Relations", StatPearls, Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing, PMID 28613794, retrieved April 4, 2024
  7. ^ Gonzalez, Patricia; Birnbaum-Weitzman, Orit (2020), Gellman, Marc D. (ed.), "Sociocultural", Encyclopedia of Behavioral Medicine, Cham: Springer International Publishing, pp. 2105–2107, doi:10.1007/978-3-030-39903-0_1511, ISBN 978-3-030-39903-0, retrieved April 4, 2024
  8. ^ Griffin, John B. (1990), Walker, H. Kenneth; Hall, W. Dallas; Hurst, J. Willis (eds.), "Interpersonal Relationships", Clinical Methods: The History, Physical, and Laboratory Examinations (3rd ed.), Boston: Butterworths, ISBN 978-0-409-90077-4, PMID 21250156, retrieved April 4, 2024
  9. ^ M, Kalpana (November 29, 2018). "Family Relationship: Why Is It Important And How To Build It?". MomJunction. Retrieved April 4, 2024.
  10. ^ "Social Relationship". Retrieved April 4, 2024.
  11. ^ "Why is building great work relationships important? - Employsure". Retrieved April 4, 2024.
  12. ^ "Why religious compatibility matters in relationships". Deseret News. February 1, 2024. Retrieved April 4, 2024.
  13. ^ "Sexual Relationships: Meaning, Types & Steps, Theory". StudySmarter UK. Retrieved April 4, 2024.
  14. ^ vmc (April 19, 2010). "Parenting, social environment and child development | myVMC". Healthengine Blog. Retrieved April 4, 2024.
  15. ^ Erving Goffman, Relations in Public (1972) p. 296
  16. ^ Liu, Fulong; Lin, Baogang; Meng, Kun (February 23, 2023). "Design and Realization of Rural Environment Art Construction of Cultural Image and Visual Communication". International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. 20 (5): 4001. doi:10.3390/ijerph20054001. ISSN 1660-4601. PMC 10001604. PMID 36901011.
  17. ^ Quoted in Peter Worsley ed., The New Modern Sociology Readings (1991) p. 17
  18. ^ P. Hamilton ed., Emile Durkheim: Critical Assessments, Vol I (1990) p. 385-6
  19. ^ Emile Durkheim, The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life (1971) p. 227
  20. ^ John O'Neill, Sociology as a Skin Trade (1972) p. 174-5
  21. ^ Jörg Dürrschmidt, Everyday Living in the Global City (2000) p. 47
  22. ^ Henri Ellenberger, The Discovery of the Unconscious (1970) p. 380-1
  23. ^ R. Skynner/J. Cleese, Families and How to Survive Them (1993) p. 94

Further reading