In "Questioning Collapse" Errington and Gewertz take issue with Diamond's analysis regarding the development of Papua New Guinea in both of his books. Describe their most important criticisms of...

In "Questioning Collapse" Errington and Gewertz take issue with Diamond's analysis regarding the development of Papua New Guinea in both of his books. Describe their most important criticisms of collapse and then discuss to what extent you think Jared Diamond's specific argument about highland New Guinea is weakened as a result of those criticisms. Conclude with whether you think this matters ( for or against) in relation to Diamond's more general argument in "Collapse"?

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farouk23 | College Teacher | (Level 1) Associate Educator

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To tackle this question we should first examine Diamond’s general argument regarding the collapse of civilizations and societies. In his books, Diamond argues that historically societies collapse on account of the following reason (or combination of reasons):

  1. Overpopulation
  2. Deforestation/ habitat destruction
  3. Soil problems
  4. Overhunting/Overfishing/Overconsumption
  5. Introduction of invasive species into new environment
  6. Water management and supply issues (like major droughts)
  7. Environmental degradation and destruction due to human activities

The author further argues that these activities are also having a tremendous impact on modern civilization and that failure to heed the lessons of the past may result in similar societal collapse.

In regard to the highland culture of Papua New Guinea, Diamond lauds both the success of sustainable agricultural practices and the impact that contact with Europeans (colonialism) has had in reducing intertribal conflict.

Errington and Gewertz primary critique of Diamond’s characterization of the Papua New Guinea highland culture is that it oversimplifies the issue. They ague that Diamond makes a veiled justification for colonialism and colonial exploitation by suggesting that it was responsible for the relative peace of the region.

Although Diamond’s specific argument regarding highland New Guinea may stand the criticism by Errington and Gewertz, it undermines the rest of his general thesis. The reason for this is that the example of Papua New Guinea is highly unique and based on a culture developed as a result of specific environment factors distinct to that region ( an argument that Diamond himself makes). However he uses the experience of New Guinea and extrapolates it as a theoretical justification for his general thesis. Doing this tends to undermine the argument as New Guinea does not provide a large enough sample ( or is too unique) from which to draw a wider conclusion.

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