Professor Scot Ortman

The Social Reactors Project and the evolution of human networks

5:00pm - 6:00pm / Thursday 3rd February 2022
Type: Seminar / Category: Research
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Speaker: Professor Scot Ortman
Affiliation: University of Colorado Boulder

Abstract: Since 2014, the Social Reactors Project has been working to establish a theoretical and empirical basis for the study of human settlements through history. The project’s primary goal is to identify fundamental functional properties of human settlements, and general processes of growth and decline, in a framework that accommodates both regularity and contingency. We refer to human settlements as social reactors due to their role in concentrating and accelerating social interactions and their outcomes in space and time. This view derives from urban scaling research and the discovery that allometries of contemporary urban systems are also apparent in pre-modern and even non-urban systems. To date, project researchers have completed more than two dozen studies in past societies known through ethnography, history, and archaeology, and ranging from hunter-gatherer camps to New World farming villages, urban centers of classical antiquity, East Asia, and Precolumbian Latin America. In this presentation, I summarize these findings to show just how consistent and predictable scaling effects are, and to illustrate how archaeological evidence is helping to clarify and extend a general theory of human societies as complex systems.

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