Part of New Studies in Archaeology. Author: Joseph Tainter. Date Published: March ; availability: Available; format: Paperback; isbn: Collapse of Complex Societies has ratings and 91 reviews. Mark said: Ok, done!Tainter’s work is an opus. How could it be otherwise with a title lik. Political disintegration is a persistent feature of world history. The Collapse of Complex Societies, though written by an archaeologist, will therefore strike a chord.

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Hushour rated it liked it. Tainter supports his theory well from civilizations across time, and uses very obvious info, like territory, and some other more unusual information, like crop yields, colonial administrations, and so on.

Collapse of Complex Societies

Tainter’s work is an opus. William Zartman Limited preview societkes Collapse of Complex Societies by Joseph A. Tainter applies his framework to three well-known societal collapses to see how well it holds up: Tainter argues that sustainability or collapse of societies follow from the success or failure of problem-solving institutions[3] and that societies collapse when their investments in social complexity and their “energy subsidies” reach a point of diminishing marginal returns.

He nods vaguely in this direction when answering the anticipated criticism that he does not take into account possible equilibria, but only vaguely. He takes ideas like Marxist conflict theory and includes them in his overall theory. Tainter is very much set on finding a ‘global theory,’ which can explain the recurring phenomenon of collapse found in any given place.

Joseph Tainter – Wikipedia

Of course, our ramshackle village collape be overrun, destroyed, and our people pillaged who knows when by some Goth, Ostrogoth, Visigoth, Vandal, Hun, or some other kind of Goth I have forgotten about. He has no patience for theories that are overly dependent on the specific nature of each case, a trait that many historians and anthropologists would take issue with cf.

Tainter describes nearly two dozen cases of collapse and reviews more than years of explanations. I’ll confess up front that I often review on the utility of the work at hand and its relation to me, me, ME! Eventually, this cost grew so great that any new challenges such as invasions and crop failures could not be solved by the acquisition of more territory.


I really enjoyed this book because of the unique perspective Tainter presents in explaining the collapse of complex societies.

Collapse of Complex Societies by Joseph A. Tainter

In each summarized case, he briefly applies a few of his markers for collapse to a truncated history of the society, along with a short postscript about the society and geographical area, and concludes that most or all of his quantifiable markers characterize collapse, so his definition is correct.

But — while his book is valuable, it has big holes. Oct 04, J. Such complexity requires a substantial “energy” subsidy meaning the consumption of resources, or other forms of wealth. Apr 20, Ron rated it liked it. He uses complexity as both a definitional marker for societies and as a yardstick for measuring their collapse. Some of it is overly pessimistic—Tainter talks about how investing in energy production already in offered sharply diminishing returns, but he neglects countervailing trends, such as the diminishing cost of light production quantified by William Nordhaus in the s.

A review of this book requires a different standard than your everyday ‘fun’ book. One final point on rationality, a key assumption made by Tainter. He seems fair and level-headed. Trivia About Collapse of Compl This point seems to decohere from earlier logic about the role of invasions in stressing a society. Does the continued failure in the United States government to regulate the production of greenhouse gases, having known about the phenomenon since the s, appear rational?

What is the point of building a model? Complexity calls these traditions into being, for such art and literature serve social and economic purposes collapee classes that exist only in complex settings.

His treatment of modern staving off of collapse touches on this.

This may reflect his own background in archaeology, and is not necessarily problematic in a world literature which focuses heavily on the histories of Eurasian societies, but I do partly wonder if the choices of societies are motivated by popular concerns. He paints the Ik, in Uganda, as an example of extreme collapse, alleging, for example, that children are abandoned by their mothers at age three and that sharing is nonexistent in the society.


Tainter shows an awareness of popular interest in collapses, and I wonder if he thought of representativeness or cultural connection when building this analysis.

I expect that there will be developments which follow on from Tainter and adjust his model in various important ways, but I also expect that his field will not judge him as significantly misguided.

We know in the USA that salinization of soil in California, where most of our produce is grown, is an increasing problem that will lead to starvation. He identifies many of our biases, including the biases of historians and culture people to see these collapses as negative events even though they might have been positive steps for the actual real people living then then there: Of the many fantastic examples in the book one of the most interesting is the fall of the roman empire in the th centuries when a traditional historian might say that roman provinces fell under barbarian conquest the author brings forth evidence that many of the peasants, long exhausted by the roman bureaucratic parasitic aparatus not only became apathetic towards the roman empire but actually invited the barbarians to conquer them as their lives would improve with lower taxes for the same or better levels of protection.

Average individuals may have benefited because they no longer had to invest in the burdensome complexity of empire.

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