'Cultural macroevolution: Understanding the rise of large-scale complex societies in human history' with Peter Turchin

Past Event

01 February 2023, 2:30pm - 3:30pm

Online & Manor Road Building
Manor Road, Oxford, OX1 3UQ

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© Istock/Adisa

During the Holocene the scale and complexity of human societies increased dramatically. Generations of scholars have proposed different theories explaining this evolution, which range from functionalist explanations, focusing on the provision of public goods, to conflict theories, emphasizing the role of class struggle or warfare.

To quantitatively test these theories, Peter Turchin develops a general dynamical model, based on the theoretical framework of cultural macroevolution. Using this model and Seshat: Global History Databank he tests 17 potential predictor variables (and >100,000 combinations of these predictors) proxying mechanisms suggested by major theories of sociopolitical complexity. The best-fitting model indicates a strong causal role played by a combination of increasing agricultural productivity and warfare intensity, proxied by invention/adoption of military technologies (most notably, iron weapons and cavalry in the first millennium BCE). Overall, these empirical results support the idea that a major evolutionary force explaining the rise of large-scale complex human societies, organized as states, was Cultural Multi-Level Selection.

This event is organised by the Institute for New Economic Thinking at the Oxford Martin School.


Register here for in-person or virtual attendance: https://us02web.zoom.us/meetin...

Peter Turchin

Peter Turchin
Project Leader, Complexity Science Hub - Vienna

Peter is also Research Associate at University of Oxford, and Emeritus Professor at the University of Connecticut. His research interests lie at the intersection of social and cultural evolution, historical macrosociology, economic history, mathematical modeling of long-term social processes, and the construction and analysis of historical databases. A founder of the field of Cliodynamics, his books include Ultrasociety (2016), Ages of Discord (2016), and The Great Holocene Transformation (forthcoming in 2023).