MA Social Change, Environment and Sustainability / Course details

Year of entry: 2024

Course description

The latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report underscores that profound social change is urgently needed to mitigate climate change and meet other sustainability goals. Understanding processes of social, cultural, socio-economic, and socio-technical change and their dynamic relations to the global environmental and climate crisis is of profound importance and urgency.

The MA in Social Change, Environment and Sustainability responds to these needs by creating a world-leading postgraduate programme to develop a generation of graduates and researchers with the skills, knowledge and confidence to contribute to and lead in these transformational processes.

On this programme, you will explore the contribution of sociological understandings of social change to addressing the global environmental crisis, and the challenges of large-scale transformations towards sustainable societies. You will develop a theoretically sophisticated and empirically grounded understanding of processes of social change, and you will cover substantive knowledge of the relevant topics, issues and controversies from a social scientific perspective, such as:

  • Energy use
  • Climate change
  • The global food system
  • Biodiversity
  • Green growth versus ‘de-growth’

You will also delve into cutting edge theoretical approaches to socio-economic, socio-technical and cultural change, and benefit from in-depth training in research methods and design.

Upon graduation, you will be equipped with the knowledge and skills to tackle complex problems rooted in the dynamic relationships between our socio-economic and socio-technical systems and the natural environment.

The University of Manchester is one of the UK’s leading universities for Sociology, and one of the world’s top universities for sustainability and global impact. Our Sociology department is ranked 5th in the UK (THE 2023), with its research achieving among the country’s top 3 universities for power and impact (REF 2021). The University is also ranked top in the UK and Europe (and 2nd world-wide) for global impact against the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals (THE Impact Rankings 2023).

This MA is hosted in the Sociology department , and the core teaching team are members of the world leading Sustainable Consumption insittute . Sociology at Manchester is one of the UK's largest and most presitigious centres for the subject, with over 30 academic staff and 60 postgraduate researchers forming a diverse and rigorous academic community.


This course will:
  • Explore processes of social, cultural, socio-economic, and socio-technical change and their dynamic relations to the global environmental and climate crisis.
  • Examine key debates, controversies and policy areas around societal transitions towards sustainability.
  • Explore key theories of social change and how they can be used to understand the global environmental and climate crisis.
  • Critically engage with potential solutions to complex socio-environmental problems.
  • Support you to develop the skills to contribute to research, policies, initiatives and projects addressing social change for sustainability at a variety of scales and in a range of organisations.
  • Support you to develop skills and knowledge in critical enquiry, research, analysis and evaluation, amongst other academic and employability skills such as digital literacy, teamwork, information handling, presenting and writing, in preparation for employment in a variety of sectors or PhD research.
Upon completion of the course, you will be able to:
  • Explain processes of, and key theoretical perspectives on, social change.
  • Identify and describe the dynamic relations between environment and society.
  • Analyse substantive environmental problems, such as biodiversity loss and micro-plastic pollution, from a social scientific perspective and examine and discuss key issues of environmental justice.
  • Evaluate policies and initiatives addressing societal transitions towards sustainability.
  • Critically assess research, and design, develop and deliver your own research, on societal transitions towards sustainability.
You will also gain valuable skills in communicating social scientific understandings to specialist and non-specialist audiences in a variety of ways, for example through policy and practice briefs, and working constructively and resiliently in a team and individually to solve challenging problems.

Special features

Lead the way

In 2023, we ranked top in the UK and Europe, and 2nd best university in the world for our global social and environmental impact. We are the only university in the world to feature in the top ten of the Times Higher Education Impact Rankings for five years running, with an unrivalled commitment to, and performance against, the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals.

Gain research expertise

Research design, strategy and management are key aspects of this programme and form part of your core modules. This at a university ranked 3rd in the UK for Sociology research power and impact, giving you the research skills boost you need for progress to a PhD or a career involving research, analysis, policy, communication, etc.

Fill the skills gap

There is a significant under-provision of social science postgraduates with the specific subject expertise of social change for sustainability. This skills gap is despite the strong emphasis in government, private and third sector organisations on behavioural, organisational, and social change. This programme is one of the few in the country that addresses this skills gap, and the only one in the UK which specifically blends Sociology with environment, sustainability and social change.

Teaching and learning

The MA will require a total of 180 credits. This is split into 8 modules each worth 15 credits and a 60 credit dissertation module 60. There are 4 core units and a choice of 4 optional units.

We combine traditional lecture-based teaching with tutorials, seminars and workshop sessions. Students will be expected to work both individually and on group projects.

Updated timetable information will be available from mid-August 2024 and you will have the opportunity to discuss your unit choices during induction week with your Course Director.

Part-time students

Part-time students complete the full-time course over two years. There are no evening or weekend course units available on the part-time course.

Coursework and assessment

Core and Optional units include a range of formative and summative assessments. Assessment for additional options is normally by a 3,000-word assessed essay for each unit. All students undertake a dissertation of 12,000 words, supported by core units in research design, strategy and project management.

Course unit details

Core units

  • Sociology of Environment and Sustainability (15 credits)
  • Understanding Social Change for Environment and Sustainability (15 credits)
  • Research Design (15 credits)
  • Research Strategy and Project Management (15 credits)

Optional modules

  • Science, Sustainability and Society (15 credits)
  • Environmental Activism and Advocacy (15 credits)
  • Social Theory Beyond the Human (15 credits)
Additional options from Sociology or from other departments across the social sciences may also be explored, such as:
  • Sociology of Consumption (15 credits)
  • Postcolonial Theory and Methods in the Social Sciences (15 credits)
  • Urban Sociology (15 credits)
  • Creating a Sustainable World: Interdisciplinary Applications of the Sustainable Development Goal (15 credits)
  • Qualitative Research Methods (15 credits)
  • Critical Environmental Politics (15 credits)
  • The Politics of Global Climate Change (15 credits)
  • Anthropology of Vision, Senses and Memory (15 credits)
  • Understanding Big Data for Social Research (15 credits)

Scholarships and bursaries

Both home and international students may benefit from scholarships, merit awards, bursaries and loans available at The University of Manchester. For further information on fees and funding, available scholarships and bursaries, as well as their full eligibility criteria, please visit our funding pages .

Disability support

Practical support and advice for current students and applicants is available from the Disability Advisory and Support Service. Email: