, Volume 32, Issue 3, pp 275-306

Karl Polanyi and the writing of The Great Transformation

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Abstract

Karl Polanyi's 1944 book, The Great Transformation, has been recognized as central for the field of economic sociology, but it has not been subject to the same theoretical scrutiny as other classic works in the field. This is a particular problem in that there are central tensions and complexities in Polanyi's argument. This article suggests that these tensions can be understood as a consequence of Polanyi's changing theoretical orientation. The basic outline of the book was developed in England in the late 1930s when Polanyi was working within a specific type of Marxist framework. However, as he was writing the book, he developed several new concepts, including fictitious commodities and the embedded economy, that led in new directions. Because circumstances did not give him the time to revise his manuscript, the book is marked by a tension between these different moments in his own theoretical development. The result is that Polanyi glimpses the concept of the always embedded market economy, but he does not name it or elaborate it.