Theory and Society

, Volume 48, Issue 5, pp 671–707 | Cite as

Karl Polanyi, the “always-embedded market economy,” and the re-writing of The Great Transformation

  • Hannes LacherEmail author


This article seeks to subject Fred Block and Margaret Somers’ influential reconstruction of Karl Polanyi’s The Great Transformation to a systematic review. I show that Block & Somers’s central claim—that Polanyi’s thinking underwent a “theoretical shift” as he wrote his seminal book—is not supported by archival evidence. I demonstrate that all the narrative keys that Block & Somers advance to lend plausibility to their discovery of a “theory of the always-embedded market economy” in The Great Transformation, wither under critical probing. While this article does not advance a comprehensive alternative reconstruction of Polanyi’s main work, the essential continuities it uncovers in his social thought suggest that Polanyi’s book is best understood as the culmination of his long-standing efforts to rebuild a radically transformative socialism on non-Marxist foundations. The recognition that Polanyi’s political purposes extend far beyond regulated capitalism or social-democracy, I conclude, makes it possible—and indeed necessary—to read The Great Transformation as an internally coherent work of social theory.


Capitalism and socialism Critical Institutionalism Economic sociology Fascism Political economy Neo-Polanyian social theory 



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© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PoliticsYork UniversityTorontoCanada

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