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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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. Since we were once again headed to see some ruins, I thought this an appropriate time to approach this book, although in the case of the Incas, we can easily identify Guns, Germs, and Steel and perhaps horses as the proximate causes of collapse.

Tainter looks at how complex societies great powers, if you will collapse. Tainter proceeds to evaluate the study of collapse itself, with an eye to establishing himself as unique, and all predecessors as pretenders. 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 systems composed thereby.

He recognizes collapse when a society involuntarily sheds a significant portion of its complexity. The answer is that we use it up.

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Hard-nosed ccollapse social-economical historians.

There is no retrenchment possible; removing a keystone will bring it all down, and every stone is a keystone. That doesn’t sound right. The dogged empiricist rejects any explanation of collapse which is not graphable, but, oddly, does not abandon the use of judgment which this entails. They did not want to spend the money, and hundreds of people downstream drowned or were crushed by the deluge.

The Romans “solved” this problem by conquering their neighbours to appropriate their energy surpluses in concrete forms, as metals, grain, slaves, etc.

Collapse of Complex Societies

His theory is so abstract and general, that in every application Tainter must call back the theories he eschewed and ask them to fill in the specifics of his theory, as subordinates to it. These offer different levels of complexity and different sources of evidence to compare against each other.

Tainter offers a sober view of the collapse of complex societies, he considered the viewpoints of so many sources that it is safe to tainetr his word for it. A civilizations beliefs, or our interpretation of those beliefs are not ‘objective’ and so have nothing to contribute to the study of collapse. In a world of competing polities, it’s damned if you do and damned if you don’t.

slcieties 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 the book. He draws upon far more North and Central American societies in his examples than any from elsewhere. Tainter says diminishing returns eventually trap civilization in a no-win situation. Tainter begins by swiftly and of This book seems to be the workhorse of the industrial-collapse intellectual set Jared DiamondDerrick JensenJohn Michael Greeretc.

Full collapse, though, only occurs in the presence of a power vacuum. Productivity of educational investment societiee the development of specialized expertise. Tainter selects three collapses on which to test his diminishing returns theory: Here’s a nation that has “collapsed” by choosing to stop being an empire and instead become a stable small state, a lower form. Tainter reviews virtually all of the prevailing theories.


Re-reading my review a year later, both Tainter’s analysis and mine leave me uncomfortable, unsatisfied. Contentious material about living persons that is unsourced or poorly sourced must be removed immediatelyespecially tainfer potentially libelous or harmful.

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

We cannot shelf away the fact that most history is speculative, and if we think of the present time, if someone looks at your room how much will they be able to tell about you?

Marginal returns of agriculture in India.

The Collapse of Complex Societies – Joseph Tainter – Google Books

This is unexceptional enough, in that it paints the definition with a broad enough brush that few would disagree. Such complexity requires a substantial “energy” subsidy meaning the consumption of resources, or other forms of wealth. Archeological evidence from human bones indicates that average nutrition actually improved after the collapse in many parts of the former Roman Empire.

But I’ll take that any day over the economic inefficiency of the late Roman Empire.