Reframing socio-hydrological research to include a social science perspective

Li Xu, Patricia Gober, Howard S. Wheater, Yuya Kajikawa

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

52 Scopus citations


There is increasing recognition of the need to incorporate the complex and dynamic interactions between society and water in studies of water resource systems. The study of human-water dynamics requires the involvement of researchers from different disciplines, including hydrology and social science. This paper tracks recent trends in socio-hydrological research using quantitative and qualitative methods. Bibliographic metrics and network analysis are used to identify general trends and illustrate the internal connections in this small but growing interdisciplinary field. Results show that hydrologists dominate research in socio-hydrology as presently defined, with far less participation from social scientists. Research questions for socio-hydrology tend to focus on system dynamics and are often not framed in a way that engages the interests and expertise of social scientists. A qualitative analysis addresses key barriers to the interdisciplinary development of socio-hydrology and identifies research needs and directions for better integration of the human dimensions of water science. Attracting social scientists to this field requires a broader conceptualization of socio-hydrology to focus on sustainable development, risk assessment, hazard management, resilience, adaptation, and knowledge mobilization in addition to hydrology's traditional focus on systems modeling and decision support. We propose three themes for thematic focus: systemic risk and natural hazards; sustainability science; and adaptive governance. This broader framing of socio-hydrology is inherently more interdisciplinary, brings new methods and viewpoints to the field, and ensures that place-based local values are included in studies of water system dynamics.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)76-83
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Hydrology
StatePublished - Aug 2018


  • Bibliographic metrics
  • Human-water interaction
  • Interdisciplinary
  • Network analysis
  • System dynamics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Water Science and Technology


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