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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Tainter does a good job with his argument, which I admit even I though I disagree with it in part. In dismissing his consideration of greed, Tainter points out that greed, like the poor, will always be with us.

Consumption of all the slack technology provides leads to an irrevocable commitment to complexity and interdependency. Competing Peer Polities IX. Account Clolapse Sign in.

Joseph Tainter

By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. Primitivist Archetypes in s Children’s Programming”. The impacts of inflation devaluation and the plague are self-evident, but Tainter has only mentioned regulations once in his analysis section.

Tainter applies his framework to three well-known societal collapses to see how well it holds up: British Admiralty statistics View all 8 comments. And ultimately, it’s that that makes me look at his conclusions for modern society seriously.

Tainter applies collspse diminishing marginal returns analysis broadly, to everything from agriculture to scientific progress. As noted above, Tainter critiques other theories for being too parochial.

He uses complexity as both a definitional marker for societies and as a yardstick for measuring their collapse.

Collapse of Complex Societies

Joseph Tainter arrived inwith this book, to offer an alternative—namely, total economic determinism filtered through a framework of his own devising. Lewis once pointed out, very few people are actually German economists. Basically the argument can be summed up as declining marginal returns to societal complexity resulting in a natural economic solution of less complexity to restore balance.


There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Apr 09, Jani-Petri rated it really liked it. Along with James C. I expect that there will be developments which follow on from Tainter and adjust his model in various important ways, but I also expect that his field will not judge him as significantly misguided.

The Collapse of Complex Societies – Joseph Tainter – Google Books

He begins with a typification of collapse and of complex societies that have undergone it, and moves on to examine existing explanations soiceties collapse, all of which he finds to be incomplete in their treatment. This tainer not to say that what Tainter offers is wrong, but it is most definitely incomplete. Increasing complexity requires increasing amounts of energy inputs, and when those inputs cease to produce outputs equal to or greater than the cost of the inputs, society devolves to lesser and lesser complexity until the outputs again meet or exceed the cost of the inputs.

April Learn how and when to remove this template message. Tainter has nothing positive to say about the modern global situation.

His paper Complexity, Problem Solving, and Sustainable Societies focuses on the energy cost of problem solving, and the energy-complexity relation in manmade systems. They were able to finance their complex society by plundering their areas of conquest.

My library Help Advanced Book Search. The comparisons didn’t appear to be “cherry picked” because they fit the A review of this book requires a different standard than your everyday ‘fun’ book. The idea of diminishing returns well explored meaning that more fertilizer, internet, railroads and regulations produce more food per man-hour invested, but only to a point.

At worst, it seems to suggest that complex societies that collapse must be isolated, or else that tinter their neighbours being less complex counts as such. Marginal yield in a branch of science.

Joseph Tainter – Wikipedia

Rome is, of course, a primary example, with Mayan culture, Chaco While it was a little dense in places, long on listing facts and short on broader theory, as a whole I enjoyed it. Tainter offers a sober view of the collapse socieies complex societies, he considered the viewpoints of so many sources that it is safe to take his word for it.


This growth inevitably leads to specialization, stratification, and complexity which initially serves growth 3. No trivia or quizzes yet. Too much sober thought stifled speculation, may be it is because Tainter is an archaeologist who likes substantive reasons rather than flights of fancy. His explanation goes like this: Any explanation of societal collapse carries lessons not just for the study of ancient societies, but for the members of all such societies in both the present and future.

Much shorter, deeper and more convincing than Jared Diamond’s collalse work, Tainter’s deftly analyzes the logic of and evidence for some dozen definitions of collapse in application to a range of ancient civilizations, honing down to a robust and satisfying model, despite its leaning on rational-actor assumptions.

Subsequent resource extraction be it in the form of new mines, new agricultural lands, or new conquests have a lower return on energy invested generating a smaller surplus to sustain the complex society.

He boldly decides that both are partially right, and moves on, since, after all, what he cares about is complexity, not how we got there. What does it mean for societies to fail? So the change becomes not really an improvement, but instead a permanent commitment to additional infrastructure, additional complexity. I really enjoyed this book because of the unique perspective Tainter presents in explaining the collapse of complex societies. Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.