Topic: Demographics

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Societal Collapse

Technology History Economics Politics Anthropology Sociology Futures studies Culture Demographics

Societal collapse (also known as civilizational collapse) is the fall of a complex human society characterized by the loss of cultural identity and of socioeconomic complexity, the downfall of government, and the rise of violence. Possible causes of a societal collapse include natural catastrophe, war, pestilence, famine, and depopulation. A collapsed society may revert to a more primitive state, be absorbed into a stronger society, or completely disappear.

Virtually all civilizations have suffered this fate regardless of size or complexity. But some revived and transformed, such as China and Egypt, while others never recovered, such as the Mayan Empire and the civilization on Easter Island. Societal collapse is generally a quick process, but rarely abrupt. Yet some have not collapsed but have only gradually faded away, as in the case of the British Empire since 1918.

Anthropologists, (quantitative) historians, and sociologists have proposed a variety of explanations for the collapse of civilizations involving causative factors such as environmental change, depletion of resources, unsustainable complexity, decay of social cohesion, rising inequality, secular decline of cognitive abilities, loss of creativity, and misfortune. However, complete extinction of a culture is rare; in most cases, the new societies that arise from the ashes of the old one are evidently its offspring, despite a dramatic reduction in sophistication. Moreover, the influence of a collapsed society, say that of the Roman Empire, may linger on long after its death.

Societal collapse is studied by specialists of history, anthropology, sociology, and political science. More recently, they are joined by experts in cliodynamics and study of complex systems.

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