At this meeting, we decided to "go public" with the project. We decided on a name for the project, and we will soon set up a website. We are:
"Settlements as social reactors: Data, theory, and models through history"
- Luis Bettencourt, a physicist at the Santa Fe Institute
- Jose Lobo, an economist at Arizona State University
- Scott Ortman, an archaeologist at the University of Colorado
- me (archaeologist at ASU).
|A 12th century English manor|
Archaeologists have been so obsessed with "settlement patterns" that we haven't bothered to define the concept of settlement. And archaeological settlement pattern research is divided into two camps: work on hunter-gatherers, and work on sedentary agricultural societies. Each camp analyzes things differently and pays little or no attention to the other camp. For the most part, this is fine. The settlements and settlement dynamics of hunter-gatherers are very different from those of sedentary agrarian societies, and they require different concepts, methods, and theories. But without a comprehensive approach, how would we know whether or not there are continuities and regularities of human settlements that cut across the hunter-gatherer / agrarian divide?
|Neighborhoods of RV's in Quartzsite|
So where is the comprehensive theoretical approach that can analyze human settlements from nomadic campsites to modern cities? The closest thing I could find is Roland Fletcher's work on the limits of settlement growth (Fletcher 1995). I admire this work very much. Fletcher analyzes some of the negative consequences of the growing sizes and densities of settlement. But there are also positive consequences of settlement size that he does not analyze, and his work is too limited to be considered a general "science of human settlements" (and he, like most of the authors I've been checking yesterday and today, fails to provide a basic definition of "a settlement"). I also looked at the field of settlement geography. There are many models and data in this field, but nearly all of it ignores (or treats badly) non-agrarian settlement.
So it looks like our "social reactors" model of settlement scaling (Bettencourt 2013) may be the most comprehensive scientific approach yet to human settlement size and its consequences. Is that too grand a claim? Stay tuned: our publications will be appearing before long. And I'll have more to say here about settlement scaling and its place in the wide urban world.
Bettencourt, Luís M. A. (2013) The Origins of Scaling in Cities. Science 340:1438-1441.
Fletcher, Roland (1995) The Limits of Settlement Growth: A Theoretical Outline. Cambridge University Press, New York.
Smith, Michael E., Ashley Engquist, Cinthia Carvajal, Katrina Johnston, Amanda Young, Monica Algara, Yui Kuznetsov and Bridgette Gilliland (2015) Neighborhood Formation in Semi-Urban Settlements. Journal of Urbanism 8(2):173-198.