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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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 docieties.

Joseph Tainter

The nature of complex societies. He does this in order avoid soieties value-laden connotations. Our current global situation is too interconnected for individual complex-societies to collapse in isolation.

Tainter examines several major cultures that show a rise in complexity and expansion in territory followed by a collapse and decline.

Aug 16, Mbogo J rated it liked it. Joseph Anthony Tainter born December 8, is an American anthropologist and historian. Dr Tainter’s homepage Archived at the Wayback Machine.: No doubt there are many lessons for economists here. Tainter says diminishing returns eventually trap civilization in a no-win s Ok, done! Productivity uoseph educational investment for the development of specialized expertise.

Collapse of Complex Societies by Joseph A. Tainter

Productivity of caloric intake for increasing life expectancy. The answer is that we use it up. So, I wouldn’t say this is for the layman.


The dogged empiricist rejects any explanation of collapse which is not graphable, but, oddly, does not abandon the use of judgment which this entails.

Just in case society does collapse, I’ll document the fall here, so at least at the end I can say “I told ya so! Another possibility I’m trying to cinch down the last loose knot on his thesis, you see is that the complexity is a house of cards. But there is another point demonstrated by his long description that he misses: One more last thought how many “last thoughts” is one allowed?

This is a sobering conclusion indeed, akin to the tragedy of commons where mankind is guaranteed a race to the bottom as selfish individual decisions lead to negative outcomes for our species, a gloomy prospect for the future to be sure. Apr 09, Jani-Petri rated it really liked it.

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 colla;se perhaps horses as the proximate causes of collapse.

So, after summarizing the work of people like Gibbon, Toynbee, Spengler, and others he essentially dismisses with a wave of his hand.

The advance of civilizations is a progression in organizational complexity as a solution to problems of resource acquisition and distribution as populations become increasingly concentrated. These offer different levels of complexity and different sources of evidence to compare against each other. In dismissing his consideration of greed, Tainter points out that greed, like the poor, will always be with us.

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The civilization plateau’s and the This is a short, dense, book about a difficult subject. Such complexity requires a substantial “energy” subsidy meaning the consumption of resources, or tainfer forms of wealth. Quigley has his own list of consequence to institutions. We know oil is finite, yet we do little about it. Rather, we get a lot of description.


In a world of competing polities, it’s damned if you do and damned if you don’t. I’ll confess up front that I often review compkex the utility of the work at hand and its relation to me, me, ME! He notes that the modern world is different, not in its possible non-hierarchical approach to complexity, but in that collapse can only occur in a power vacuum, where no competitor will move in immediately, and no such power vacuum exists in the modern world on any relevant scale.

Collapse of Complex Societies

Yet, despite this lacuna, Tainter concludes his study with this prescient question: We know that monoculture farming is a bad idea, yet we subsidize it. He then develops a new and far-reaching theory that accounts for collapse among diverse kinds of societies, evaluating his model and clarifying the processes of disintegration by detailed studies of the Roman, Mayan and Chacoan collapses.

But this increased population required greater agricultural efforts and eventually they reached a point at which they could not continue this upward spiral. The marginal product of increasing complexity with technological innovation or acquisition of an energy subsidy. He uses complexity as both a definitional marker for societies and as a yardstick for measuring their collapse.

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