In the last decade, probably in response to global changes and environmental crisis, the use of the term “social-ecological system” (SES) in the scientific literature has been growing. This is certainly a sign of the recognition of the need and importance of transdisciplinary research. Here, we explore whether the use of the term is a buzzword, or it actually represents a key concept toward the integration of social and ecological research. We compiled a data base of publications (N = 1289) that mentioned SES in title, keywords and abstract. Subsequently, we analyzed: authors affiliations, type of work (conceptual, empirical, review), study site, prevailing human use, temporal and spatial scales of analysis, kind of variables analyzed (socioeconomic, biophysical), and the method/s used to integrate them. We detected four time spans in the use of the term (1975–1997, 1998–2006, 2007–2012, 2013–2016). Our results suggest that SES is a widely invoked concept to study the interface between social and ecological systems. Most works show some common elements such as the analysis of resilience, ecosystem services, sustainability, governance and adaptive management. However, the majority of studies does not study SES as a whole, integrating both social and ecological variables and their feedback loops. We consider that SES is still a concept in construction in order to build a necessary framework to integrate social and ecological sciences. For a robust evolution we recommend to focus on 1. a conscious, discussed and agreed effort of scientists to conduct transdisciplinary research needed to study SES; 2. developing methodological tools for the true integration of social and ecological data.