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The Institute of Social Sciences is an Organic Unit of the University of Minho, created in 1976, just three years after the foundation of the university itself. The nature, mission and principles, as well as its governance and organizational model are defined in the Institute's Statutes, the most recent version of which was published in Diário da República on September 25, 2018 (Despacho n.º 9032/2018 – Diário da República n.º 185/2018, Série II de 2018-09-25).

The Institute of Social Sciences is organised into two types of organic subunits, departments and research centres. It comprises four departments – the Department of Communication Sciences, the Department of Geography, the Department of History and the Department of Sociology – and four research units – the Communication and Society Research Centre (CECS); the Interdisciplinary Centre for Social Sciences (CICS-UMinho); the Centre for Research in Anthropology (CRIA-UMinho) and the Landscapes, Heritage and Territory Laboratory (Lab2PT).

The management of the Institute is ensured by the functioning of the following bodies: the Institute Council, the Scientific Council, the Pedagogical Council, the Management Council and the Advisory Council.

The activity of the Institute of Social Sciences is divided into three specific areas:

1) pedagogical, ensuring a training offer that integrates six Degree courses, nine Masters courses and seven Doctoral Programmes;

2) scientific, developing research projects and promoting scientific activities and events of national and international expression;

3) extension / interaction with the community, seeking to establish bridges with different sectors of society.

The Institute of Social Sciences brings together more than 1,500 people. In December 2019, it brought together a total of 1,337 students in all of its courses (747 undergraduate, 449 Master's and 141 PhD). The four departments comprise 68 career professors. The research centres also include a significant number of researchers from other higher education institutions. Administrative and technical work is performed by 15 employees.