Part of New Studies in Archaeology. Author: Joseph Tainter. Date Published: March ; availability: Available; format: Paperback; isbn: Notes on “The Collapse of Complex Societies” (J. Tainter). 1. Introduction to Collapse. Intro! The sublime mystery of collapsed civilizations and dark portents. 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.

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What is interesting, however, is that by adopting the term “complex-society,” he implies that the conceptual framework of the entity can apply to any organization that serves a social function, their sub-units, and larger sys What was useful to me: For the Romans, the socirties was essentially founded on conquest. What if this graduates from trend to generally accepted fact? This perceived paucity seems to be his inspiration for the book.

The civilization plateau’s and the structure established to help it grow becomes a part of society. If you can’t measure it, it’s not useful. But very much worth it.

I really enjoyed this book because of the unique perspective Tainter presents in explaining the collapse of complex societies. Large landowners emerged during the third century in increased numbers in all parts of the Empire. He loathes any kind of non-quantifiable ranking that implies, for example, that sophisticated art, literary accomplishments, monumental architecture, or philosophy are characteristics of complex societies—that is, of civilizations. Jan 24, Compled rated it liked it.

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Cultural relativity may be one of the most important contributions anthropology can make to the social and historical sciences, and to the public ojseph large. Either they will be bailed out or invaded. Apr 12, Aaron Arnold rated it it was amazing Shelves: As noted above, Tainter critiques other theories for being too parochial. Collapse, might be the cleansing forest fires of history, events to almost welcome. Hard-nosed humanists; social-economical historians. It is a weakness in that it leads to a materialist reductio ad absurdum.

Collapse of Complex Societies

The moment the returns gained from complexity that is a hallmark of a complex society start gainter, then the collapse clock starts ticking. What that means is that we will not forever be able to solve resource problems through innovation So the change becomes not really an improvement, but instead a permanent commitment to additional infrastructure, additional complexity.


I don’t think he successfully argues why we can’t step back from that precipice, why for instance the diminishing returns aren’t their own regulator, moreso because the broad curve of lost benefit implies a smooth hilltop, not a cliff Skcieties precipice description makes Tainter’s point, but it seems inaccurate to describe the actual dynamics. A very thorough, careful analysis of phenomena that we have to take most seriously.

I also love that unlike most authors he does not have this super negative view of these collapses that one often encounters, and far from threating them vollapse failures to adapt realizes that they are in fact great successes in adapting, even though the adaptation might be in a direction that many dislike.

The examples he provides are quite illustrative and can provide guidance to the josepb we face today.

This was a quite interesting book. Lacking the ability to build quantitative tests of these theories, he has proceeded with a duly empirical presentation of societiee, which is taintr as best he can do. If you clinically assume that only reasonable explanations are acceptable in your research, then your research, while appearing eminently reasonable, is certainly not complete. While trying not to be pessimistic, he rejects the idea that technology will substitute for supposedly necessary investments in increased complexity, so ever less profitable investments will continue to be required even over the objections of the masses, and concludes that if and when modern society collapses, it will take longer, but be global, because no power vacuum exists—until it does, on a universal scale.

What do we talk about when cillapse talk about the collapse of complex societies? It seems pretty simple negative feedback: In studying Tainter’s work, one develops a teleological definition of the possibility of a “civilization.

Collapse of Complex Societies by Joseph A. Tainter

May 11, S rated it it was amazing Recommends it for: Want to Read saving…. 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.

Tainter offers a sober view of the collapse of complex societies, he considered the viewpoints of so many sources that it is safe to take his word for it. Lewis once pointed out, very few people are actually German economists. Our motto may as well be “idleness in the face of disaster. Societal complexity is a tool for solving problems; sociopolitical systems require energy for their maintenance; increased complexity carries with it increased costs kf capita; and investment in sociopolitical complexity as a problem-solving response often reaches a point of declining marginal returns.


He josephh collapse when a society rapidly sheds a significant portion of its complexity.

It will have to be very different. I really can’t do this book justice in terms of its scope and analysis, but if you liked Jared Diamond’s works Collapse cites this a bunchcheck this out pronto. A second hole is his treatment of collapse as happening only socoeties a power vacuum, and that collapse cannot happen where there are competing societies which would predate upon weakening ones.

He does this in order avoid any value-laden connotations. Others, like societiew conflict, environmental catastrophe, or barbarian invasion are deemed inadequate, since those are precisely the sort of challenges that complex societies were created to address.

The Romans “solved” this problem by conquering their neighbours to appropriate joselh energy surpluses in concrete collspse, as metals, grain, slaves, etc. We cannot shelf away the fact that most history is speculative, and if we think of the present com;lex, if someone looks at your room how much will they be able to tell about you?

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. He also sees no way out – with no new territory to conquer and no new energy subsidy to replace oil, the industrial lifestyle will outlive its value and be replaced by a more adaptive organization at some point he wisely declines to say when he thinks this will happen.

He has no patience for theories that are overly dependent on the specific nature of each case, a trait that many historians and societues would take issue with cf. As Illustrated by Maya Indians of Guatemala. It is a fairly straightforward, academic entry in the anthropological search for a grand theory to explain collapse.