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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Joseph Tainter – Wikipedia

Jun 30, Betawolf rated it really liked it Shelves: This is unexceptional enough, in that it paints the definition with a broad enough brush that few would disagree. May 19, DoctorM rated it really liked it Shelves: 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. This was far deeper and nuanced thinking that the standard shallow storyline.

The bibliography is astonishing. Just to maintain the status quo new resources are needed and when they are not available the collapsw of the complex society begins to crumble. Tainter says diminishing returns eventually trap civilization in a no-win s Ok, done! Any person with a ojseph knowledge of history which Tainter very evidently lacks knows that there is a tide in the affairs of men, that is comples qualitative yet is very real.

These are, for the most part, very nicely done and quickly key in to the major flaws each theory has as an explanatory device. He paints the Ik, in Uganda, as an example of extreme collapse, alleging, for example, that children are abandoned by their mothers at age three and that sharing is nonexistent in the society.

We know cities like Phoenix, Los Angeles, and Las Vegas are unsustainable because of lack of water, but we can’t even bring ourselves to do some tiny thing like outlaw lawns, golf courses, or fountains in front of the moseph, much less write strict, sane zoning laws. The alternative assumption — of idleness in the face of disaster — requires a leap of faith at which we may rightly hesitate. A dry read, societiees. Most of his colllapse, though, is on class conflict theories and mystical theories, both of which he attacks in scathing terms.


It works in tribal and chiefdom societies as well as state and industrial ones. Scott in “Against the Grain,” Tainter thinks that the costs of a complex society may simply exceed its benefits to the people in that society, who will therefore be better off at a less complex level of organization. Turns out all the reasons I 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 his word for it.

For example, did Germany under the Nazis act rationally? Here’s a link to some comparison between this book and Diamond’s Collapse. When did the Japanese leadership decide it had had enough? What was useful to me: Basically complexity becomes too costly and so collapse occurs.

That’s why collapse as it has historically occurred isn’t really possible today.

No trivia or quizzes yet. Yet, despite this lacuna, Tainter concludes his study with this prescient question: At a recent visit to a planetarium, I was reminded of this phenomena in watching the stars picking up more mass as they get larger, sucking up the gravitationally weaker gas around them. They reverted to taxation, debasing the currency, and turning to slavery, which ultimately weakened their society to barbarian incursion. For example, as Roman agricultural output slowly declined and population increased, per-capita energy availability dropped.

Tainter shows an awareness of popular interest in collapses, and I wonder if he thought of representativeness or cultural connection when building this analysis. Complexity calls these traditions into being, for such art and literature serve social and economic purposes and classes that exist only in complex settings.

By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. This is useful because it draws a very clear distinction between complfx criticism’ and ‘social science.

This perceived paucity seems to be his inspiration for the book.

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This allows for the support of specialized roles that do not necessarily contribute to the sustainability of the society aristocrats, priest castes, etc.

But now we depend on the structure, which has become brittle, and like a house of cards, easy to knock over. I liked how earlier authors had speculated that some empire in South America collapsed when villagers grew tired of fighting the river floods and just left. Sort by Relevance Newest Oldest. Finally, Tainter applies his model to today. Whatever the answer, it is clear that speculation is part of the study of history and that was lacking in this book.


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.

The farmer buying the fast tractor doesn’t see the oil cost in it’s impact on fertilizer cost, or food prices in poor countries, or something similar, so he makes what is for him the right Local decision, but Globally, it is the wrong one. How We May Think. Nov 29, Mike rated it it was amazing Shelves: Feb 03, Mark rated it it was amazing. But there is another point demonstrated by his long description that he misses: Normally I am a bit skeptical of the analysis of historians as they seem to often have soft logic, often recurring to very subjective values or opinions, and telling long and boring stories about concepts such as heroism, some small details, series of random eveniments and such things, which are all good and great, but seem to me to have little explanatory power We know that monoculture farming is a bad idea, yet we subsidize it.

This growth inevitably leads to specialization, stratification, and complexity which initially serves growth 3. What you don’t get is what I selfishly expected: This is not to say that what Tainter offers is wrong, but it is most definitely incomplete.

If you clinically assume that only reasonable explanations are acceptable in your research, then your research, while appearing eminently reasonable, is certainly not complete.

Jan 27, Mohammad rated it really liked it. Can we get out from under excessive demands for complexity? Yet, it lives up to the title: Eventually the return on investment tapers to nothing, and then further effort would actually COST energy, blood compled treasure.