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Complexity and Sustainability: Perspectives from the Ancient Maya and the Modern Balinese

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  20 January 2017

Vernon L. Scarborough
Affiliation:
Department of Anthropology, University of Cincinnati
William R. Burnside
Affiliation:
Department of Biology, University of New Mexico

Abstract

Complexity is both a buzzword and a paradigm in the biophysical sciences and, increasingly, the social sciences. We define “social complexity” as the nonlinear escalation of costs and emergent infrastructure with rising energy use and concentrated power as societies develop. Two paths to social complexity are technotasking, which relies on technological break-throughs and is often politically hierarchical, and labortasking, which relies on skilled labor pools and is often heterarchical. We suggest several pathways to greater degrees of complexity and present two case studies emphasizing the role of labor-tasking; an in-depth review of the ancient Maya and a shorter introduction to the recent Balinese. Both of these complex societies used labortasking to adapt to local ecological limitations in semitropical settings. These societies used heterarchical organizations to accretionally engineer and manage their environments, strategies that promoted long-term resilience. Case studies such as these provide a nuanced picture of different paths to social complexity and highlight their relative costs, benefits, and potential for long-term sustainability.

Resumen

Resumen

El concepto de complejidad es definido como una consigna y un paradigma en las ciencias biofísicas y cada vez más en las ciencias sociales. Definimos la complejidad social como el incremento no-linear de costos e infraestructura emergente con incrementos en el uso de energía y el poder concentrado que esta ligado al desarrollo de las sociedades. Una de las dos direcciones hacia la complejidad social es la faena tecnológica (technotasking), la cual consiste en adelantos tecnológicos y a menudo es políticamente jerárquica; y (labortasking) la tarea laboral la cual consiste en trabajo especializado que es a menudo heterarquico. Algunas trayectorias hacia el incremento en el grado de complejidad son propuestas en este artículo. Además, dos estudios de casos que acentúan el rol de la tarea laboral (labortasking) son presentados en este estudio. Una retrospección a fondo sobre los antiguos Mayas y una corta introducción sobre el caso actual Balines son ejemplos de sociedades complejas que usaron (labortasking) la tarea laboral para adaptarse a las limitaciones ecológicas locales de su medio ambiente, ambas en zonas semi-tropicales. Estas sociedades emplearon organizaciones heterargicas para gradualmente ingeniar y controlar su medio ambiente, estas son estrategias que ofrecen intransigencia a largo plazo. Los estudios de casos subrayan el costo relativo y los beneficios de las diferentes direcciones hacia la complejidad social y su relación con sustentabilidad.

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Copyright
Copyright © Society for American Archaeology 2010

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