Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Major Professor

Harry F. Dahms

Committee Members

Steven P. Dandaneau, R. Scott Frey, Allen Dunn


Part I examines the global rise of both public and private debt and its recent manifestations in the US housing bubble and the financial panic of 2007-8. A review of the most popular theories of the debt crisis is provided, including an explication of securitized banking and economic theory. The underlying condition of increasing ecological and energetic scarcity is accorded central significance in the broad trajectory of world growth and debt, Part II explicates systems theories of social order and the social significance of markets. The theories of Niklas Luhmann, Talcott Parsons, Mario Bunge, Anthony Giddens, and Jürgen Habermas are evaluated with respect to their theories of social order and crisis. A central finding is that, although declining rates of exergy production inhibit the global economic recovery as measured by conventional economic tools, this fact is not likely to be widely recognized. A central theme of Part II is how social systems handle uncertainty, risk, and to what extent complex social systems can be regulated normatively by the public sphere. As global society becomes increasingly interconnected and dependent upon the depletion of material and energy resources, the communication channels that facilitate the self-understanding of modern society at the same time proliferate, becoming increasingly disconnected and self-referential. Luhmann’s systems theory is used to explain why collective recognition and action is at once rendered more necessary and increasingly unlikely given the complexity of global society that Earth’s terrestrial stock of nonrenewable energy resources has engendered.

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