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theories of civilizations Re: [ANE-2] Re:Tainter on China

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  • Peter T. Daniels
    What makes any of the works below any better than Toynbee (or, for that matter, Spengler), who was essentially laughed out of court by the time his last volume
    Message 1 of 3 , Jun 7, 2007
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      What makes any of the works below any better than Toynbee (or, for that matter, Spengler), who was essentially laughed out of court by the time his last volume was published?

      --
      Peter T. Daniels grammatim@...

      ----- Original Message ----
      From: Mitch Allen <leftcoastpress@...>
      To: ANE-2@yahoogroups.com
      Sent: Thursday, June 7, 2007 12:19:20 PM
      Subject: [ANE-2] Re:Tainter on China

      Like any broad theory about society, Tainter's theories fit some places
      better than others. And while we can quibble about the specifics for
      each society he uses as examples, the fact that someone like him tried
      to create a general model of the decline of complex societies is truly
      admirable, particularly since he is fully engaged in the global
      historical and archaeological evidence to the extent that anyone can.
      His point that societal expansion always(?) leads to diminishing
      returns of energy over time and space is an important concept that
      helps explain the geographical, political, and economic limits of
      empire in the ancient world, though not always equally applicable in
      each specific instance.

      Creating solutions to overcome this ceiling allowed for greater
      expansion beyond previous societies, a point that has been made about
      the Neo-Assyrian empire by several scholars, including myself.

      I use his book for my ancient complex societies class. I also throw
      Wittfogel, Marx, Childe, Carneiro, Wallerstein, and Adams at them.
      While there has never been a fully satisfying model of the rise and
      fall of complex societies, these attempts are something we should
      admire and attempt to refine. Critiquing them are important, since the
      data is always stretched a bit to fit the theory, but coming up with a
      better theory is not particularly easy or it would be done more often.
      Tainter's theory has withstood almost 20 years of critique and, as you
      see, is still well cited.

      Most recently, I was involved in publishing the work of sociologist
      Sing Chew, whose 3 volumes from AltaMira on long-term ecological
      degradation caused by complex societies and environmental regeneration
      during "dark ages" is a similarly broad attempt to show the mechanisms
      of societal development and degeneration. Jared Diamond borrowed
      extensively from these ideas in Collapse, which brings our arcane field
      of study to a much wider audience.
    • richfaussette
      ... that matter, Spengler), who was essentially laughed out of court by the time his last volume was published? ... May I suggest Paul Colinvaux s Fates of
      Message 2 of 3 , Jun 8, 2007
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        --- In ANE-2@yahoogroups.com, "Peter T. Daniels" <grammatim@...> wrote:
        >
        > What makes any of the works below any better than Toynbee (or, for
        that matter, Spengler), who was essentially laughed out of court by
        the time his last volume was published?
        >
        > --
        > Peter T. Daniels grammatim@...
        >


        May I suggest Paul Colinvaux's Fates of Nations, a Biological Theory
        of History (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1980)
        He is an ecologist. His "What Big Fierce Animals are Rare" is also an
        excellent small volume on ecological law.
        I have not read Spengler but found Colinvaux's prose far more
        economical than Toynbee and his discussion of the importation of an
        external proletariat as for example in the displacement of the Roman
        free farmer and Roman agricultural centralization in the latifundium
        far more understandable than Toynbee's similar examples.

        rich faussette
      • richfaussette
        ... May I suggest Paul Colinvaux s Fates of Nations, a Biological Theory of History (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1980) He is an ecologist. His What Big
        Message 3 of 3 , Jun 8, 2007
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          --- In ANE-2@yahoogroups.com, "richfaussette" <RFaussette@...> wrote:

          May I suggest Paul Colinvaux's Fates of Nations, a Biological Theory
          of History (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1980) He is an ecologist.
          His "What Big Fierce Animals are Rare" is also an excellent small
          volume on ecological law.

          I'm sorry. In my post I mistitled Colinvaux's small volume. It should
          read "WHY Big Fierce Animals are Rare."

          rich faussette
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