Professor J. Stephen Lansing

J. Stephen Lansing is an external professor at the Complexity Science Hub Vienna and the Santa Fe Institute, birthplace of complexity theory, and emeritus professor of anthropology at the University of Arizona. Before moving to Arizona in 1998, Lansing held joint appointments at the University of Michigan in the School of Natural Resources & Environment and the Department of Anthropology, and earlier chaired the anthropology department of the University of Southern California. From 2015 to 2019 he was Director of the Complexity Institute and Professor in the Asian School of Environment at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore. He has been a Fellow at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton, the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford, the Institute of Advanced Study at Durham University and the Stockholm Resilience Center.

In the 1980’s, Lansing and ecologist James Kremer showed that Balinese water temple networks can self-organize. Later research showed that over the centuries, water temple networks expanded to manage the ecology of rice terraces at the scale of whole watersheds. In 2012, Bali’s water temple networks were recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage. In 2019, the story of the water temple research is the focus of an exhibition by a team of architexts, artists and researchers from ETH Zurich at the Sharjah Architecture Triennial, "the rights of future generations" ( ).

As the pieces of the water temple story were falling into place, Lansing became interested in self-organizing processes elsewhere in the archipelago. In 2000 he began to work with Indonesian geneticists, linguists and public health officials to study the co-evolution of social structure, language change and disease resistance on fourteen Indonesian islands. The discoveries from this project are the subject of Islands of Order: A Guide to Complexity Modeling for the Social Sciences (Princeton University Press 2019 and companion website

Lansing’s current research focuses on two projects: the discovery of a Song language spoken by a community of cave-dwelling hunter-gatherers in Borneo, and the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions from rice agriculture in Indonesia.


Vertical Gardens