The published works of the global, social and economic theorist Jeremy Rifkin are increasingly influencing planetary debates, yet few have explored his central contentions with a critical eye. In essence, Rifkin asserts humanity must either transform or collapse, with the latter being likely unless there is a significant change in trajectory. In Rifkin’s view this scenario has developed as a consequence of unsustainable ‘entropic debt’ and an economic system that cannot continue to sustain itself, given that it has successfully reduced margins (through technology) to almost zero. However, he maintains that transformation is possible if disruptive (paradigm shifting) energy and networking technologies are adopted in a timely fashion, and a post-capitalist economic system emerges as a consequence of lower transaction costs: the privileging of access over ownership; and the development of Commons based markets. The process of transition Rifkin describes as a Third Industrial Revolution and the new civilisation that emerges from it (the transformation) as a Collaborative Age. The transdiciplinary nature and pan-civilisational scope of Rifkin’s contentions extend beyond conventional (historical, sociological, political and economic) thinking and the applied/empirical frameworks that are central to most Western academic enquiry. Thus a broader framework is required; one that examines not just the litany of the proposed changes, but the deeper patterns that underpin both the transition and the transformation. Consistent with this requirement for a more integrated and holistic perspective, it is asserted that ‘macrohistory’ (the study of the patterns in societies and cultures over the long time) provides the means to frame, interrogate and understand propositions such as the Third Industrial Revolution. Drawing on the insights and writings of selected macrohistorians from diverse historical periods, cultures and worldviews, this thesis identifies patterns in the rise and fall of past civilisations/cultures. These are also evident in contemporary society and are central to Rifkin’s theorisation. It posits that the Third Industrial Revolution represents a decisive technological juncture and cultural evolution that goes beyond a mere artful bundling of a number of smaller shifts, which will at some future time seem mere blips on the radar. Further, it asserts that in this (partially) technologically determined transformation there will be a substantive reframing of both socio-economic relational dynamics, and the notions of time, form and space upon which those relationships depend. However, this thesis argues that in an interconnected world, these different conceptions of reality cannot be constituted inside of those senses of reality currently privileged by modernity and its deconstructed successor, post modernity. It contends that a different kind of (biosphere) consciousness and philosophy (beyond the spectrum of contemporary ‘isms’) is necessary to reconstitute collaborative identities in a networked future. Such a future will be ecological in its relationship models, and complex, chaotic, contradictory and uncertain in its system effects. Consequently, over time, as these different identities interact, a new metanarrative will develop that will define a counter hegemonic ‘beyond the horizon of modernity’ culture. Finally, emerging from this consideration of Rifkin’s work, the work of selected macrohistorians and of those engaged in the contemporary ransformational discourse, this thesis postulates a ‘causally layered’ theory of civilisational revolution, together with descriptors of the emanant ‘relational’ scaffolding and the distinctive social morphology of a Collaborative Age.
Submitted in the fulfilment of the requirements of the degree of Doctor of Philosophy, University of the Sunshine Coast, 2016.