According to Donncha Kavanagh's article, at the time UCI was being founded, the UC system was in a period of radical growth and instability. The rapid population growth in California, combined with the G.I. Bill's impact on demand for higher education, induced a severe need to expand the UC system. This resulted in a plan to develop four new UC schools, one of which was UC Irvine.
There was also heightened social instability across the state, due in part to: escalations of conflict in Vietnam and a growing protest movement against the war, the struggles and triumphs of the Civil Rights Movement, a second wave of Feminism, a search for alternative views on the human condition, and the rise to prominence of various critical approaches to social science, including Marxism. Culturally, there were both intellectual and counter-cultural turns against hierarchy and over-determined social structures. These movements (including the post-structuralist, post-modern, and the "flower power" movement) were starting to gain traction and notoriety in California and elsewhere across the United States.
The institutional structure of UCI's School of Social Sciences was also directly inspired by Jim March's first and second-hand awareness of other recent experiments in interdisciplinary social science. These included March's alma mater, Yale's Institute for Human Relations (1929-1950), as well as Harvard's Department of Social Relations (1946-1972), the RAND Corporation in nearby Santa Monica, California, and the Carnegie Institute for Technology's Graduate School of Industrial Administration (peak influence from 1954-1964).
UCI's first catalogue described the intellectual and practical ambition of the Social Sciences Division (later referred to as the School of Social Sciences) as follows:
“Important new problems confront society; and social scientists have a responsibility to assist in the development of solutions to these problems. A rapidly changing technology, the pathologies of a population explosion and urban concentration, the thrust of once underdeveloped societies, the creeping master of disease, the strains of race relations, the tempestuous marriage of men and machines in problem solving, endemic crises in international affairs, lagging or explosive economic growth, political instability, and explorations of space provide social scientists with an extraordinary list of unsolved problems and opportunities” (Quoted in Kavanagh 2010, 8-9).