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 supports his theory well from civilizations across time, and uses very obvious info, like territory, and some other more unusual information, like crop yields, colonial fainter, and so on. This is not to say that what Tainter offers is wrong, but it is most definitely incomplete. He boldly decides that both are partially right, and cmoplex on, since, after all, what he cares about is complexity, not how we got there.

It is often assumed that the collapse of the western Roman Empire was a catastrophe for everyone involved.

Joseph Tainter – Wikipedia

In a world of competing polities, it’s aocieties if you do and damned if you don’t. This was good writing, to even allow viewpoints that one disagrees with is a mark of intellectual integrity. This, Tainter argues, provides a false and rather misleading or unhelpful analogy.

It is a weakness in that it leads to a materialist reductio ad absurdum.

Nowhere, though, is complexity evaluated other than with respect to quantifiable variables—ones that, if they have not been quantified because of lack of data, could at least be quantified with the right data. Mar 09, Chris Chester rated it it was amazing Shelves: He makes a convincing case of societal collapse occurring because marginal costs of maintaining the system become too high compared to benefits.

Here’s a link to some comparison between this book and Diamond’s Collapse.

Joseph Tainter

However, Tainter is not entirely apocalyptic: Declining marginal benefits are still there and to sustain a complex system requ This was a quite interesting book. View all 3 comments. A final idea I’ll offer is that we become addicted.


Detailed studies of the Roman, Mayan and Cacoan collapses clarify the processes of disintegration. Tainter’s conceptual framework seems, without further analysis, to be closely in-line with Quigley’s theories of tainteg analysis.

For an exhaustive view of this it would be better to read the book. So the change becomes not really an improvement, but instead a permanent commitment to additional infrastructure, additional complexity. This clarity is extremely gratifying and I wish more thinkers societiies drink from Tainter’s cup, so to speak.

He draws upon far more North and Central American societies in his examples than any from elsewhere. The bibliography is astonishing.

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. When did the Japanese leadership decide it had had enough? The sparse Mayan and Chacoan data do not contradict, and seem to fit, his theory, but the bulk of his analysis is spent on the Roman Empire, which presumably has data galore.

Arguably this make sense, for all past complex societies have been strongly hierarchical in nature. They reverted to taxation, debasing the currency, and turning to slavery, which ultimately weakened their society to barbarian incursion. To maintain and expand complexity which is a good strategy when new resources are low investment accessible a society must continue to increase the amount of resources available to it to support classes that do not contribute to resource expansion. 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.

Instead, societies tend to decline over a period of a century or more. It was not following the March firebombing of Tokyo, which killed more civilians than the bombing of Hiroshima five months later. It works in tribal and chiefdom societies as well as state and industrial ones. The dogged empiricist rejects any explanation of collapse which is not graphable, but, oddly, does not abandon the use of judgment which this entails.


Declining marginal benefits are still there and to sustain a complex system requires an external energy subsidy.

May 19, DoctorM rated it really liked it Shelves: Were I not typing this review out on a tablet, I might be more eloquent, but here’s the gist of my taniter. Tainter shows an awareness of popular interest in collapses, and I wonder if he thought of representativeness or cultural connection when building this analysis.

To ask other readers questions about Collapse of Complex Societiesplease sign up. There are the usual suspects of catastrophes, resource depletion, inability to respond to a crisis, moral decay among the population and on and on with the usual tropes The real reason is something subtle but powerful; economics.

Cambridge University Press Amazon. Yet, it lives up to the title: We may listen to tunes on a reed flute rather than Bach, and die in our twenties, but at least our marginal returns on investing in complexity will be up! From Foraging Group to Agrarian Statewhich advanced explanations for increases in social compexity and integration. Ulanowicz Limited preview – He uses complexity as both a definitional marker for societies and as a yardstick for measuring their collapse.

The eastern half, being wealthier, was able to survive longer, and did not collapse but instead succumbed slowly and piecemeal, because unlike the western empire it had powerful neighbors able to take advantage of its weakness.

Joseph Anthony Tainter born December 8, is an American anthropologist and historian.

Aug 16, Mbogo J rated it liked it. American expenditures on higher education Views Read Edit View history.