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CESC meeting: Cultural complexity and the impossibility of sustainability

Time: Wed 2016-05-11 12.30

Location: Lindstedtsvägen 3, room 4423

Participating: Daniel Pargman

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On the agenda + pre-read: 
Cultural complexity and the impossibility of sustainability
- a discussion led by Daniel Pargman.

Joseph Tainter’s book ”The Collapse of Complex Societies” (1988) puts forth a theory of the process and the dynamics behind the collapse of various ancient civilizations (The Roman Empire, Mesopotamia,, Minoan civilisation etc.). It was almost irresistible for these to solve all societal problems in ways that increased cultural complexity, but, the process of increasing cultural complexity always goes hand in hand with increased costs for establishing and maintaining said complexity in terms of effort, resources, time, money etc.
The problem of retooling industrial societies into sustainable societies, is in this sense no different from any other problem faced by modern (or ancient) societies. Our proposed solutions tend to gravitate towards solving that problem by increasing our efforts (resources, time, money etc.) in ways that will further increase cultural and societal complexity as well as costs. Previous unsustainable infrastructures (for transportation, heating, producing food and stuff and for ”producing” energy) tend to be replaced by new, more complex structures, for example dumb electricity grids being replaced by more complex smart grids, slow trains being replaced by significantly more complex and expensive high-speed trains, adding carbon capture and storage (CCS) to existing coal power plants etc..
Welcome to this CESC seminar!
To get the most out of the discussion, please prepare by reading Joseph Tainter’s article (10 pages). To be found here: 

In case you can not access the article, please contact and we will send you a pdf.

To participate virtually, let us know via and use this guide to connect to the meeting