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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The clincher comes at the final chapter when Tainter outlines the implications of his theory on our current industrial and global civilization. However, tinter the Empire grew, the cost of maintaining communications, garrisons, civil government, etc. Interestingly competition with others may tie states to a competition that avoids collapse for the time being since collapse is not possible if another organized state is there to soxieties over.

This was far deeper and nuanced thinking that the standard shallow storyline.

The Collapse of Complex Societies

Tainter performs a service to posterity, throwing out all the old rhetoric of moaners and naysayers, blindly reading their own bias into the tea leaves sitting atop the stinking garbage heap of history. Yet, it lives up to the title: Why do outputs have to exceed inputs?

Declining marginal returns on complexity complexity being a term of art in collappse instance. I’ll confess up front that I often review on the utility of the work at hand and its relation to me, me, ME! Tainter shows an awareness of popular interest in collapses, and I wonder if he thought of representativeness or cultural connection when building this analysis.

So the plague would have had the effect of a severe recession, and owners who no longer had the labor resources to make their land produce enough for the land tax would have to abandon it or sell to wealthy landowners, sociehies like the wealthy have the extra resources to increase their investments in a downturn and acquire more income producing property at lower rates which they continue to own in the next upturn.


This is a historical analysis, with applicability to our age that’s noted only lightly along the way: The impacts of inflation devaluation and the plague are self-evident, but Tainter has only mentioned regulations once in his analysis section.

That doesn’t sound right. What do we talk about when we talk about the collapse of complex societies?

He draws upon far more North and Central American societies in his examples than any from elsewhere. One of the major problems in sustainability and in this whole question of resources and collapse is that we did not evolve as a species to have this ability to think broadly in time and space. Our current global situation is too interconnected for individual complex-societies to collapse in isolation. What does it mean for societies to fail? While Tainter can be a bit too Colin Renfrew in his use of quantification, his discussion of how complexity unravels and how increasing social complexity ultimately begins to yield lower and lower returns on social investment is fascinating.


Tainter begins by categorizing and examining the often inconsistent explanations that have been offered for collapse in the literature. The alternative assumption—of idleness in the face of disaster—requires a leap of faith at which we may rightly hesitate.

Joseph Tainter: The Collapse Of Complex Societies | Zero Hedge

On a second reading, even better! They were able to finance their complex society by plundering their areas of conquest. Jun 30, Betawolf rated it really liked it Shelves: The investment to acquire these resources is at first easily outwighed by their benefits.

He provides a thorough overview of the many explanations offered by historians to explain the many frequent occurrences of societal collapse throughout history.


Joseph Tainter

The empire was split into two halves, of which the western soon fragmented into smaller units. Eventually, this cost grew so great that any new challenges such as invasions and crop failures could not be solved by the acquisition of more territory. What you don’t get is what I selfishly expected: There is no retrenchment possible; removing a keystone will bring it all down, and every stone is a keystone.

He identifies many of our biases, including the biases of historians and culture people to see these collapses as negative events even though they might have been positive steps for the actual real people living then then there: He takes ideas like Marxist conflict theory and includes them in his overall theory. I don’t think he successfully argues why we can’t step back from that precipice, why for instance the diminishing returns aren’t their own regulator, moreso because the broad curve of lost benefit implies a smooth hilltop, not a cliff My precipice description makes Tainter’s point, but it seems inaccurate to describe the actual dynamics.

It begins to dissolve when it no longer benefits the majority of its populace. The explanation, he finds has to do with society’s investment in complexity: I find such historical examples very interesting and relevant in our age when centralization and bureaucratization has become such a huge taxing burden on the back of society.

Full collapse, though, only occurs in the presence of a power vacuum.