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The University of Southampton

ARCH2041 Contemporary Issues and Debates in Archaeology

Module Overview

Contemporary archaeology operates within a broad remit: its traditional focus on understanding a deep past is now supplemented by studies of more recent material cultures, and issues of heritage, representation and the politics of the past. All of these dimensions of study, dialogue and practice are conducted within theoretical frameworks that are conditioned by contemporary perspectives on the world. The purpose of this module is to explore the interrelated themes of contemporary archaeological theory and practice, and archaeology’s place in the modern world. It is about the production of archaeological pasts for academic and non-academic audiences, and how such pasts are consumed and contested. Students will gain an understanding of the links between archaeology and anthropology, philosophy, sociology and behavioural sciences (among others), and develop a critical understanding of current issues and debates within archaeology which can then be deployed across other modules and dissertation study.

Aims and Objectives

Learning Outcomes

Knowledge and Understanding

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

  • a range of current inferential, social and critical archaeological thinking;
  • how contemporary social, political and economic contexts influence contemporary theory-building and archaeological practice;
  • the nature of archaeological practice as an often contested activity in the present;
  • the links between archaeology and other disciplines including anthropology, philosophy, sociology, human geography, postcolonial studies and behavioural science.
Subject Specific Intellectual and Research Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • apply aspects of current archaeological thought to archaeological examples;
  • demonstrate written communication skills;
  • critically evaluate key themes and debates in social archaeology;
  • critically interrogate the social and political role of archaeological practice;
  • appreciate the contested nature of the past, the variety of values placed upon it, and the sensitivity of academic research.
Transferable and Generic Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • demonstrate written communication skills;
  • gather information from a variety of sources, analyse and evaluate it critically.
Subject Specific Practical Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • identify appropriate theoretical tools to plan and carry out research for the dissertation in Year 3;
  • employ analytical skills appropriate to the study of social archaeology;
  • undertake data collection, synthesis and presentation.


Through lectures and related seminars, this module will cover: * the influence of contemporary political, social and economic fields on archaeological practice and inference; * contemporary theory in archaeology; * how the archaeological past is valued, owned and contested, by both academic and public communities; * how the past is represented through the media, museums and other modes of display. Where appropriate, students will be directed to recent debates within the media and in academic circles that focus on issues relating to heritage and public engagement with archaeology (e.g. heritage at risk stories, TV portrayals, new legislation, and so forth). These may be used as the basis for seminar discussions.

Learning and Teaching

Teaching and learning methods

Lectures followed by group seminars/discussions.

Completion of assessment task40
Independent Study84
Total study time150

Resources & Reading list

Renfrew, C (2000). Loot, Legitimacy and Ownership. 

Harris, O.J.T. & Cipolla C.N. (2017). Archaeological Theory in the New Millennium: introducing current perspectives. 

Meskell, L. (ed.) (2009). Cosmopolitan Archaeologies. 

Hodder, I. (ed.). (2012). Archaeological Theory Today. 

Holtorf, C. (2005). From Stonehenge to Las Vegas: Archaeology as Popular Culture. 



MethodPercentage contribution
Essay  (2000 words) 50%
Journal  (2000 words) 50%


MethodPercentage contribution
Resubmit assessments 100%

Repeat Information

Repeat type: Internal & External

Linked modules



Costs associated with this module

Students are responsible for meeting the cost of essential textbooks, and of producing such essays, assignments, laboratory reports and dissertations as are required to fulfil the academic requirements for each programme of study.

In addition to this, students registered for this module typically also have to pay for:


There are no specific costs to students

Please also ensure you read the section on additional costs in the University’s Fees, Charges and Expenses Regulations in the University Calendar available at

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