Environmental Circumscription and the Emergence of Social Complexity

Stephen Scott

Carneiro proposes a theory for the emergence of social complexity that draws from ecological and biological inspiration. Key to this theory is the notion of “environmental circumscription”, which posits that spatial, geographic, and social factors may induce competitive or cooperative interactions in otherwise independent social groups, resulting in acceleration in the rate of evolution of social complexity. An agent based model is used to investigate the effects of environmental circumscription on the emergence of complex interactive behavior among societies in the early stages of social complexity. The model results indicate no relationship between amount of habitable land and social complexity emergence speed or ethnic diversity. However, the results show that environmental variability does impact the social complexity emergence speed and ethnic diversity. Offering a new perspective on Carneiro’s theory, the findings suggest that time rather than space may have more effect on the emergence of social complexity.

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