The University of Southampton
HumanitiesPostgraduate study

ARCH6112 Materials, Technology and Social Life

Module Overview

This module examines the central role of technology in archaeological constructions of social life. It integrates techniques for the investigation of materials in archaeological science with discussions of social theory. Case studies from a range of different forms of material culture, places and periods are examined. You are encouraged to read widely and to explore inter-disciplinary approaches to materials and technology including those derived from archaeology, anthropology, sociology, technology studies and materials science.

Aims and Objectives


This module aims to develop your knowledge and understanding of social aspects of technologies and materials in past societies.

Knowledge and Understanding
Having successfully completed this module you will be able to demonstrate knowledge and understanding of:

  • How archaeologists use social theories to explore the development of technologies and the changing use of materials in past societies
  • scientific techniques for the analysis of archaeological materials and technologies
  • the role of social relations and networks in the creation and maintenance of technological practices and skills

Cognitive (thinking) skills
Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Critically assess past and current archaeological approaches to the study of materials and technology
  • Critically assess the value and appropriate application of a range of social theories employed to understand materials and technology in past and contemporary societies.
  • Evaluate the usefulness of a range of scientific techniques for the analysis of archaeological materials and technologies

Practical (subject specific) skills
Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Engage with archaeological and ethnographic objects in order to describe and understand the technology of their production, and how this is embedded in fields of knowledge and social relations.

Key transferable skills
Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Lead and present oral seminars
  • Analyse complex written texts
  • Work as part of a group
  • Produce independent research


Typically the syllabus will cover:

  • Topic
  • Introduction to the module: material worlds
  • Making things, making relations: technological processes and choices
  • Embedded technologies
  • Art and technologies of enchantment
  • Materials
  • Fieldtrip (Pitt Rivers Museum)
  • Project presentations 1
  • Project presentations 2
  • Technologies of remembrance and forgetting
  • Wayfaring and mapping: technologies of travel and space
  • Building
  • Feedback on assessed work

Learning and Teaching

Study time allocation

Contact hours:48
Private study hours:252
Total study time: 300 hours

Teaching and learning methods

This is primarily a seminar-based course, although fieldtrips will be incorporated where practical and relevant. Discussions in seminars will enable you to develop your knowledge, understanding, intellectual skills and critical abilities. The seminar sessions will also include hands-on study of archaeological and ethnographic objects as a focus for discussion.

Teaching methods include:

  • Seminars
  • Group work
  • Tutorials

Learning activities include

  • Individual study
  • Artefact study
  • Preparing and delivering student-led seminars
  • Discussion groups

Special features of this module

  • Integration of archaeological science and social theory

Resources and reading list

Adams, J. 2003. Ships, Innovation and Social Change. Stockholm Studies in Archaeology 24. Stockholm Marine Archaeology Reports 3. Stockholm

Conneller, C. 2011. An Archaeology of Materials: substantial transformations in early prehistoric Europe. London: Routledge

Dobres, MA and Hoffman CR (eds) 1992. The Social Dynamics of Technology: Practise, Politics and World Views. Washington.

Gell, A. 1998. Art and Agency: an anthropological theory. Oxford: Clarendon Press

Ingold, T. 1997. Eight themes in the anthropology of technology. Social Analysis 41:106-38

Ingold, T. 2007. Materials against materiality. Archaeological Dialogues 14(1), 1-16

Jones, A. 2002. Archaeological Theory and Scientific Practice. Cambridge: CUP

Latour, B. 2005. Reassembling the Social: an introduction to Actor-Network-Theory. Oxford: Oxford University Press

Leroi-Gourhan, A. 1945. Milieu et Technique. Paris

Lemmonnier, P. 1993 (ed.) Technological Choices: transformations in material culture since the Neolithic. London: Routledge

Pfaffenberger, B. 1992. Social Anthropology of Technology, Annual Review of Anthropology 21:491-516.

Sigaut, F. 1994. Technology. In T. Ingold (ed.), Companion Encyclopedia of Anthropology, 420-59. London: Routledge

Schlanger, N. (ed) 2006. Marcel Mauss. Techniques, Technology and Civilisation. Oxford: Durkheim Press / Berghahn Books

Sofaer, J. 2006. Pots, Houses and Metal. Technological Relations at the Bronze Age tell at Százhalombatta, Hungary. Oxford Journal of Archaeology 25(2):127-47

Toren, C. 1999. Mind, Materiality and History. Essays in Fijian Ethnography. London


Assessment methods

  • Assessment 1: Object Study - 50%
  • Assessment 2: Extended Essay (4000 words) - 50%

Assessment 1: through the hands-on, self-directed study of an individual object (either archaeological or ethnographic), this assignment helps you understand processes of making and the social relations that exist within technology. Assessment 2 provides the opportunity to develop in detail a chosen aspect of the module through a case study, decided in consultation with the module coordinator.


Programmes in which this module is compulsory

MA Social Archaeology

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