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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Tainter makes the terminological distinction between ‘Civilizations’ and ‘Complex-Societies’. The civilization plateau’s and the structure established to help it tainte becomes a part of society. What I like about Tainter is that he doesn’t assume that complex societies are the ultimate good.

The advance of civilizations is a progression in xocieties complexity as a solution to proble An excellent treatise that proposes a general theory on why many advanced civilizations throughout history eventually collapse, with very detailed treatment of Roman and Mayan collapses as case studies to support the hypothesis.

Tainter points out that it can be seen as a very rational preference of individuals at the time, many of whom were actually better off.

Joseph Tainter – Wikipedia

The impacts of inflation devaluation and the plague are self-evident, but Tainter has only mentioned regulations once in his analysis section. If our system is interdependent and surely it is for is not the efficiency derived substantially from specialization that interdependence allows? The Romans “solved” this problem by conquering their neighbours to appropriate their energy surpluses in concrete forms, as metals, grain, slaves, etc.

Imagine living collpase Western Europe ca.

Jan 25, Zora rated it liked it. Quotes from Collapse of Compl It had some useful thoughts, though I would have preferred to get theory from a less josepg source. A scholar trained in anthropology learns early on that such valuations are scientifically inadmissible, detrimental to the cause of understanding, intellectual indefensible, and simply unfair.

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

At no point, though, does he make any effort taintwr actually address any such theory; he bootstraps his disgust into a conclusion, in essence treating Toynbee as no better than an Aztec priest tearing the hearts out of sacrificial victims to appease Huitzilopochtli and ensure the rising of the Sun. They were constrained geographically, which lead to competition between various political centers.


This book seems to be the workhorse of the industrial-collapse intellectual set Jared DiamondDerrick JensenJohn Michael Greeretc. Tainter is an anthropologist, so he views history though that prism.

The Collapse of Complex Societies – Joseph Tainter – Google Books

He recognizes collapse when a society involuntarily sheds a significant portion of its complexity. They did not want to spend the money, and hundreds of people downstream drowned or were crushed by the deluge.

Mar 21, Steve Greenleaf rated it really liked it Shelves: 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.

This book is a rather dry read but it is very informative.

Collapse of Complex Societies

Complexity calls these traditions into being, for such art and literature serve social and economic purposes and classes that exist only in complex settings. These bits are neat, but this is only a small part of the book. And again, it’s not to say it isn’t a fine specimen, it just wasn’t very good.

I was delighted to see the author picking a large spectrum of historical events in the treatment of hist subject, trying to pick common and logical similarities and differences that would allow one to form a bigger picture!

Nowhere, though, is complexity evaluated other than with respect to quantifiable variables—ones that, if they have not been quantified because of lack of data, could at least be quantified with the right data.

Tainter performs a service to posterity, throwing out all the old rhetoric of moaners and naysayers, blindly reading their own bias into the tea leaves sitting atop the stinking garbage heap of history.

That societiez sound right. I warmly recommend it to anybody who’s willing to learn from the experiences of our grand-grand-grand-grand-grand The explanation, he finds has to do with society’s investment in complexity: The marginal product of increasing complexity.

However, this incisiveness may come at the societoes of nuanced, cautious, and case-specific history: There’s a wealth of fun polemics and theory and new approaches and tours-de-force against established views of the reasons for the collapses investigated in Book reviews are sometimes uncertain exercises and of questionable value, collapde mine.


Dr Tainter’s homepage Archived at the Wayback Machine.: Tainter’s work here is a dissection of what it means for a society to ‘collapse’, and an attempt at a rigorous causal explanation for why that collapse happens. Reform is the happiest.

Societal complexity is a tool for solving problems; sociopolitical systems require energy for their maintenance; increased complexity carries with it increased costs per capita; and investment in sociopolitical complexity as a problem-solving response often reaches a point of declining marginal returns. British Admiralty statistics It is similar to Quigley’s distinction between ‘social instruments’ and ‘institutions: The Romans “solved” this problem by conquering their neighbours to appropriate their energy surpluses in concrete forms, as metals, grain, slaves, etc.

But when more and more communities were added that were subject to the same stress surges like drought or invasion, the utility of the system declined. Tainter applies his diminishing marginal returns analysis broadly, to everything from agriculture to scientific progress. Not a very successful framework, to be sure, but at least one that provides some food for thought.

Of course bringing oil into it pulls Jared Diamond to mind.

What does it mean for societies to fail? Tainter’s conceptual framework seems, without further analysis, to be closely in-line with Quigley’s theories of historical analysis. The middle class in towns, however, was burdened by the cost of civil obligations. Surely there will someday be one road too many, if not already! View all 8 comments. To Tainter the story of a complex society is a race against the resource clock.

It is the inability to deal with these “stress surges” that is responsible for collapse, not the surges themselves. Chaco Canyon Chacoan civilization collapse competition complex societies conflict conquest costly costs Culbert n.