Ages of Discord: A Structural-Demographic Analysis of Political Violence Waves

09 Dec
Friday, 12/09/2016 12:00pm to 2:00pm
Computer Science Building, Room 150/151
CSSI Lunch
Speaker: Peter Turchin

Lunch will be provided, beginning at 12:00 pm
Talk begins at 12:30 pm

Abstract:  A useful approach to thinking about outbreaks of political violence (scaling up to revolutions and civil wars) is to separate their causes into structural conditions and triggering events. Specific triggers of political upheaval, such as self-immolation of a Tunisian fruit vendor, are very hard, perhaps impossible to predict. On the other hand, structural pressures build up slowly and predictably, and are amenable to analysis and forecasting. Quantitative historical analysis reveals that complex human societies are affected by recurrent -- and predictable -- waves of political violence. The structural-demographic theory suggests that such seemingly disparate social indicators as stagnating or declining real wages, a growing gap between rich and poor, overproduction of young graduates with advanced degrees, and exploding public debt, are actually related to each other dynamically. Historically, such developments have served as leading indicators of looming political instability. In my presentation I will describe a dynamical model based on structural-demographic theory and illustrate it with data on economic, social, and political dynamics in nineteenth century America, including the most violent episode of political instability in the U.S. history, the American Civil War. I also discuss what this theory tells us about the U.S. today.

Bio:  Peter Turchin is a scientist and an author who wants to understand how human societies evolve, and why we see such a staggering degree of inequality in economic performance and effectiveness of governance among nations. Peter's approach to answering these questions blends theory building with the analysis of data. He is the founder of a new transdisciplinary field of Cliodynamics, which uses the tools of complexity science and cultural evolution to study the dynamics of historical empires and modern nation-states. Peter has published two hundred articles, including a dozen in such top journals as Nature, Science, and PNAS. Turchin has authored seven books, including Secular Cycles (with Sergey Nefedov, Princeton, 2009), and War and Peace and War (Penguin, 2005). Currently Peter's main research effort is directed at coordinating the Seshat Databank--a massive historical database of cultural evolution that is gathering and systematically organizing the vast amount of knowledge about past human societies, held collectively by thousands of historians and archaeologists.