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Wicked Problems: Debates in Contemporary Archaeology - ARC00105M

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  • Department: Archaeology
  • Module co-ordinator: Prof. John Schofield
  • Credit value: 10 credits
  • Credit level: M
  • Academic year of delivery: 2022-23
    • See module specification for other years: 2021-22

Module summary

This module explores how archaeological methods and archaeological data can contribute meaningfully and in distinctive ways to fixing some of the world’s ‘wicked problems', being those whose complexity renders them resistant to straightforward resolution. Examples of wicked problems include crime, health, social injustice and environmental pollution.

In his 1977 book ‘The Moon and the Ghetto’, the economist Richard Nelson asked why innovation has resulted in such difficult feats as landing a man on the moon yet continues to struggle to resolve the more immediate problems of poverty, illiteracy, and the emergence of ghettos and slums. He concludes that, while politics is partly to blame, the real difficulty is that these ‘wicked’ problems demand solutions which are complex, multi-disciplinary and creative and that such solutions are often difficult to design, fund and implement.

This module promotes the idea that, done well, archaeology can contribute to these solutions by being socially and politically engaged with contemporary issues. Simply, the module asks the question: ‘How can archaeology contribute to shaping a better world?’

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching period
A Autumn Term 2022-23

Module aims

By engaging with this module, students will:

  • Understand what is meant by wicked problems and become familiar with some of the key concepts and relevant literature

  • Through a diverse range of examples, to explore creative ways of using archaeology and heritage methodologies to help resolve wicked problems

  • Recognise how archaeology can have public benefit

  • Recognise archaeology as a socially meaningful, future-oriented discipline

  • Create and present (in Powerpoint or video) a short pitch for why archaeology can be used to resolve a wicked problem

Module learning outcomes

By the end of the module the students will be able to:

  • Demonstrate a good understanding of the complexity of wicked problems and the need for creative solutions

  • Understand ways in which archaeology can form part of such creative solutions

  • Recognise and champion examples of good practice

  • Develop an idea for a project and pitch it as either a short video or a Powerpoint presentation

Module content

Each class will involve a 30 min recorded lecture to introduce key concepts and a case study or two. This will be developed through a 1 hr discussion/debate on these concepts and case studies. Students will prepare weekly tasks considering the specific problem and ways that archaeology and heritage might provide possible solutions. Students will also be asked to explore the wider literature and online sources to identify further examples where archaeology could be applied to a wicked problem. Three thematic classes will provide more theoretical foundations for the case studies, including ideas around entanglement and assemblage theory and public benefit.


Task Length % of module mark
Oral presentation/seminar/exam
Pitch (presentation, video, or written outline)
N/A 100

Special assessment rules



Task Length % of module mark
Oral presentation/seminar/exam
Pitch (presentation, video, or written outline)
N/A 100

Module feedback

Written feedback within 20 working days.

Indicative reading

Grint, K. 2008. Wicked Problems and Clumsy Solutions: the Role of Leadership. Clinical Leader 1(2). BAMM Publications. Available online at:

Rockman, M. and Flatman, J. (eds) 2012. Archaeology in Society: Its Relevance in the Modern World. New York: Springer.

Schofield, J. (ed) 2010. Archaeology and Contemporary Society. Themed issue of World Archaeology 42(3).

The information on this page is indicative of the module that is currently on offer. The University is constantly exploring ways to enhance and improve its degree programmes and therefore reserves the right to make variations to the content and method of delivery of modules, and to discontinue modules, if such action is reasonably considered to be necessary by the University. Where appropriate, the University will notify and consult with affected students in advance about any changes that are required in line with the University's policy on the Approval of Modifications to Existing Taught Programmes of Study.