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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Similarly, he rejects as not wrong, but incoherent, the idea that civilized societies are superior to uncivilized societies. In every case, when the advantages of maintaining a complex society dip below those to be gained by a breakup into smaller units, a civilization disintegrates.

Indeed they were to be proven right in time as for the centuries to come these decentralized units were better able to protect at much smaller costs. The examples he provides are quite illustrative and can provide guidance to the challenges we face today. The level of scholarship is high, and his examples are well-argued. There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Why societiea don’t I live a life of ease with the US average 10kW at my disposal?

And, in his final chapters, Tainter discusses why modern societies may not be able to choose to collapse: Just a moment while we sign you in to your Goodreads account. While the conditions societues all three are wildly different, the declining returns on sociopolitical complexity are implicated each time. I’m not going to lie, this book compex bummed me out, but I’d rather we had this perspective and a chance to avoid past mistakes than blindly blunder into the same fate that has befallen many past societies.

Tainter has a thesis whereby he ckmplex to explain the collapse of all complex societies quite a tall order of business and goes about this by establishing a lot of background information and existing theory review in the first part of the book. So the crux of Tainter’s argument is that the development of a complex society is predicated on the explotation of low hanging resources.

As Illustrated by Maya Indians of Guatemala. And also, to think og in time copmlex terms of the near and collalse future and what resources will be available to our children and our grandchildren and our socisties grandchildren.


His work shows that societies collapse when their investments in social complexity and their energy subsidies reach a point of diminishing marginal returns. He does this in order avoid any value-laden connotations. To Tainter the story of a complex society is a taihter against the resource clock.

Jul 16, Gwern rated it it was amazing Shelves: What you don’t get is what I selfishly expected: 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.

Tainter shows an awareness of popular interest in collapses, and I wonder if he thought of representativeness or cultural connection when building this analysis. A review of this book requires a different standard than your everyday ‘fun’ book. If you think we might be on o Dazzlingly brilliant, readable, profoundly insightful, this is a must-read for anyone thinking about what societal collapse means and how it comes about.

Albert Schweitzer – – Prometheus Books. No doubt there are many lessons for economists here. He provides a thorough overview of the many explanations offered by historians to explain the many frequent occurrences of societal collapse throughout history.

That is, any given strategy of social organization has large initial benefits that are easily obtained – this is why the transition occurs in the first place as in Earle and Johnson. But there is another point demonstrated by his long description that he misses: According to Tainter’s Collapse of Complex Societiessocieties become more complex as they try to solve problems. Nobody would call the writing txinter, although there are flashes of humor.

This biography of a living person needs additional citations for josepb.

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But I’ll take that any day over the economic inefficiency of the late Roman Empire. For the Roman analysis, though, he does not show us charts of input jseph and outputs. This allows for the support of specialized roles that do not necessarily contribute to the sustainability of the society aristocrats, priest castes, etc.

Victor Segesvary – This is useful because it draws a very clear distinction between ‘social criticism’ and ‘social science.

Joseph A. Tainter, The Collapse of Complex Societies – PhilPapers

Virtue cannot be quantified, and if it can be quantified it is not virtue, but that does not mean that virtue, as well as other intangible cultural characteristics, do not exist and are taknter critically important for the growth off decline of xollapse civilization, or for the globe itself.


Lewis once pointed out, very few people are actually German economists. When the ‘low hanging fruit’ disappears, further expansion be it territorial, trade oriented becomes less and less profitable, and eventually starts to work against the civilization. When did the Japanese leadership decide it had had enough?

He seems fair and level-headed. However, the marginal benefits of ever greater investments in such complexity declines beyond a certain point and eventually becomes less than the marginal investment needed, making the buildup of complexity pointless and even harmful to society.

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The Romans “solved” this problem by conquering their neighbours to appropriate their energy surpluses in concrete forms, as metals, grain, slaves, etc. As with all fieldwork anthropological assessments that seem to contradict human nature, it appears that the researchers who drew this conclusion were fooled by their interlocutors, and it is now realized that Ik society is not nearly as dreadful as Tainter says—just like Margaret Mead was led around by the nose by her Samoan interlocutors while they laughed at her behind her back for being gullible.

If you think we might collapee on our way to becoming a case study of collapse, read this work now.

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 ioseph direction that many dislike. Tainter says diminishing returns eventually trap civilization in a no-win situation. 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.

Not in a bad way either.