Peter Turchin: “Cultural macroevolution—Understanding the rise of large-scale complex societies in human history”

Apr 22, 2021 | 3:005:30

Loading Events
  • This event has passed.

Event Navigation

Peter Turchin‘s webtalk is part of the Quantitative History Webinar Series at the University of Hongkong. The Series is co-organized by the International Society for Quantitative History, HKU Business School, and the Asia Global Institute (AGI).





Over the past 10,000 years, human societies evolved from “simple”—small egalitarian groups, integrated by face-to-face interactions, —to “complex”—huge anonymous societies with great differentials in wealth and power, extensive division of labor, elaborate governance structures, and sophisticated information systems. One aspect of this “major evolutionary transition” that continues to excite intense debate is the origins and evolution of the state—a politically centralized territorial polity with internally specialized administrative organization. Theories proposed by early philosophers and contemporary social scientists make different predictions about causal processes driving the rise of state-level social organization.


Evolutionary anthropologist Peter Turchin uses the framework of Cultural Evolution and data in Seshat: Global History Databank to empirically test predictions of several such theories. In particular, Peter analyzes how the evolution of specialized governance structures was affected by such factors as social scale (population, territorial expansion), social stratification, information systems, intensity of warfare, and the productivity of agriculture.


In this Quantitative History Webinar, Peter (CSH & University of Connecticut) will explore how 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.


Apr 22, 2021


University of Hongkong