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. The interaction may be in person or through communication media, even anonymous or one-way, 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.
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.
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.
Phenomenologists contrast two alternative visions of society, as a deterministic constraint (milieu) and as a nurturing shell (ambiance).
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.
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.
Similar ideas have since been taken up in community psychiatry and family therapy.