Colin Grier's core research interest concerns the organization of complex hunter-gatherer-fisher societies. For this, he takes a comparative perspective, drawing on case studies from primarily coastal regions around the world.
Grier adopts a theoretical perspective that situates human agency in the context of the constraining and enabling structures in which humans exist, including social networks, political institutions and ecological and socially-constructed landscapes.
Grier's research focus is on the emergence of supra-household institutions in small-scale societies, including the formation of large households, structured communities and regional sociopolitical systems. He has a strong interest in household change, and how resources become increasingly controlled within the context of households. This approach situates his research in the context of one of the long-standing questions addressed by anthropology—how does social inequality emerge in small-scale societies?