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As greater significance is placed on the relationship between people and their environment it is increasingly acknowledged that few environmental problems can be solved without considering the social context in which they arise. What is the significance of incorporating the "social" and what types of social sciences are needed? A critical review is forwarded of the theoretical perspectives that underlie social scientific contributions to natural resource management and argues both for a greater social science presence and for conceptual and methodological clarity within the social sciences themselves. New concepts and approaches, contributing positively to natural resource management, are explored. The social sciences are presented as a possible vehicle to highlight social concerns as well to foster greater participation, co-operation, and integration among community members, natural resource managers and researchers. Through detailed case studies from Australasia and the Americas the utilisation of different social science perspectives is demonstrated. The range and variety of views provides a basis for the evaluation of various and often competing disciplinary paradigms within the social sciences.