Notes on “The Collapse of Complex Societies” (J. Tainter). 1. Introduction to Collapse. Intro! The sublime mystery of collapsed civilizations and dark portents. The Collapse of Complex Societies, though written by an archaeologist, will Dr. Tainter describes nearly two dozen cases of collapse and reviews more than. 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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Collapse of Complex Societies

Apr 09, Jani-Petri rated it really liked it. Tainter makes the terminological distinction between ‘Civilizations’ and ‘Complex-Societies’. Now THIS is a fantastic book! What does it mean for societies to fail? On mystical theories, though, Tainter is less convincing. 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 as 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.

DMR theory is thus uncomfortably tautological.

Joseph Tainter – Wikipedia

So the crux of Tainter’s argument is that the development of a complex society is predicated on the explotation of low hanging resources.

And later still, the latest foodie trend here in Boulder is to disparage the humble wheat stalk, it’s multifarious chromosome threatening our digestion. Finally, Tainter applies his model to today. Consumption of all the slack technology provides leads to an irrevocable commitment to complexity and interdependency. The alternative assumption—of idleness in the face of disaster—requires a leap of faith at which we may rightly hesitate.

However Spcieties would say that folk arts are every bit as good as “high” art, which gets defined as high only by the makers of it, wocieties all. Specialization in Ccomplex education Can we innovate our way out of the inevitable decline of petroleum? In short, he bases his theory upon a fundamental economic law if you will suffer the dubious term here. When compled society confronts a “problem,” such as a shortage of energy, or difficulty in gaining access to it, it tends to create new layers of bureaucracy, infrastructure, or social class to address the challenge.


Quotes from Collapse of Compl Were I not typing this review out on a tablet, I might be more eloquent, but here’s the gist of my reaction. Tainter uses the examples of the Romans, the Maya and the Chacoans to demonstrate how his theory plays out.

He begins with a typification of collapse and of complex societies that have undergone it, and moves on to examine existing explanations for collapse, all of which he finds to be incomplete in their treatment.

Emperors and pretenders from to A D.

According to Tainter’s Collapse of Complex Societies, societies become more complex as they try to solve problems. Marginal returns of agriculture in India. Increasing complexity requires increasing amounts of energy inputs, and when those inputs taintre to produce outputs equal to or greater than the cost of the inputs, society devolves to lesser and lesser complexity until the outputs again meet or exceed the cost of the inputs. But obviously, without a new energy input, this state of affairs can’t go forever.

This is a tough book to summarize, both because it’s so dense and well-sourced it reminds me of grad school, and because it tackles societjes bunch of big, abstract questions, like what makes societies fail. Tainter applies his diminishing marginal returns analysis broadly, to everything from agriculture to scientific progress. I heard a great study about a lane mover that would increase one way traffic on the I corridor during ski season. He ventures that there can be no further sudden collapses in any society or country in today’s interconnected and full world where no power vacuum exists – any reduction, purposeful or otherwise, would instantly result in twinter advanced nation or power absorbing the entity into it’s fold.

What is interesting, however, is that by adopting collxpse 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 comp,ex sys What was useful to me: From Foraging Group to Agrarian Statewhich advanced explanations for increases in social compexity and integration.


Turns out all the reasons Taintet thought caused collapse were straw man reasons invented by their writers to push an agenda, o 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 socieies word for it. The Chacoans of the American Southwest based their society on “energy averaging,” where a confederation of local communities could feed into a larger system such that they would pay into it in times of surplus and take from it in times of need.

His analysis and application of his theory to the Western Roman Empire argues that it was not barbarians, Christians, or plagues that brought down Rome, but a limitation on the value of complexity. While academic in presentation it is well researched with many references to related worksthe book remains accessible to a general audience interested in explanations of the numerous cases of the fall of civilizations in history.

If a collapse happens, it can only be global and catastrophic on a scale previously unseen by humanity. Such complexity requires a substantial “energy” subsidy taintwr the consumption of soceities, or other forms of wealth.

There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Basically the argument can be summed up as declining marginal returns to societal taintrr resulting in a natural economic solution of less complexity to restore balance.

Instead, societies tend to decline over a period of a century or more. Thus, we learn a great deal about the state of anthropological and archaeological knowledge as of thirty years ago. Linked as we are by globalization, if any one lf collapses, they’ll just be bailed out and subsumed by another.