By Gareth Dale
- Karl Polanyi: The Limits of the Market (2010)
- Reconstructing Karl Polanyi; Excavation and Critique (2016)
Karl Polanyi's The Great Transformation is generally acclaimed as being among the most influential works of economic history in the twentieth century, and remains as vital in the current historical conjuncture as it was in his own. In its critique of nineteenth-century "market fundamentalism" it reads as a warning to our own neoliberal age, and is widely touted as a prophetic guidebook for those who aspire to understand the causes and dynamics of global economic turbulence at the end of the 2000s.
Karl Polanyi: The Limits of the Market is the first comprehensive introduction to Polanyi's ideas and legacy. It assesses not only the texts for which he is famous – prepared during his spells in American academia – but also his journalistic articles written in his first exile in Vienna, and lectures and pamphlets from his second exile, in Britain. It provides a detailed critical analysis of The Great Transformation, but also surveys Polanyi’s seminal writings in economic anthropology, the economic history of ancient and archaic societies, and political and economic theory. Its primary source base includes interviews with Polanyi's daughter, Kari Polanyi-Levitt, as well as the entire compass of his own published and unpublished writings in English and German.
Karl Polanyi: The Limits of the Market is an engaging and accessible introduction to Polanyi's thinking that will appeal to students and scholars across the social sciences, providing a refreshing perspective on the roots of our current economic crisis.
Kurtuluş Gemici on Review of Radical Political Economics wrote:
"It provides a detailed summary of Polanyi’s key texts and arguments and situates them within the context of his involvement in intellectual and political movements. Dale outlines the key parameters of scholarly debate over Polanyi’s work, as well as the debates in which Polanyi himself was involved. This is quite possibly the most comprehensive critical overview of Polanyi’s work yet published. [...] arl Polanyi: The Limits of the Market is written from a perspective of critical appre-ciation, never descending into hagiography. For Dale, the strength of Polanyi’s work lies in its ‘holist and historicist method’, which allowed him to ‘denaturalise’ capitalism by viewing it as historically specific rather than universal. Dale praises Polanyi’s recognition of both the active role played by states in the construction of capitalism, and of that system’s socially and environmentally destructive tendencies. However, Dale also brings a critical gaze to bear on his subject, and highlights what he views as shortcomings in Polanyi’s work. [...] While Karl Polanyi: The Limits of the Market is comprehensive in its coverage of Polanyi’s thought, it would have been considerably strengthened by a less laborious style of presentation. It is essentially a series of summaries of the arguments of Polanyi and his interlocutors, rather than the development of a coherent thesis."
"Karl Polanyi was a student leader, a radical, a lifelong socialist, a journalist in the interwar Vienna, an autodidact well-versed in the humanities and social sciences of his time, and a scholar who did not fit established intellectual roles. His intellectual trajectory was not conventional; Polanyi’s work defies narrowly-defined disciplinary boundaries. Until quite recently, Polanyi’s ideas were known mostly through a single book, The Great Transformation, which—although it is his magnum opus—does not fully capture the scope and depth of his thought. Despite Polanyi’s remarkable influence in anthropology, heterodox economics, geography, and sociology, there are few works that examine the development of Polanyi’s thought and the intellectual territories he boldly aimed to reshape. [...] Gareth Dale’s Karl Polanyi: The Limits of the Market is a welcome attempt to fill this void. In this book, Dale offers an intellectual biography and a meticulous analysis of Polanyi’s entire body of work. [...] The book is organized to highlight Polanyi’s intellectual development and to draw connections between different parts of his work. [...] Like any original thinker, Polanyi wove an impressive array of ideas and concepts into a pio-neer synthesis: a trenchant criticism of the market society and a ground-breaking way of under-standing the relationship between economy and society. His amalgamation of insight, erudition, painstaking empirical research, and moral vision is powerful. It can also be, at times, confusing and dense. The chief contribution of Dale’s Karl Polanyi: The Limits of the Market lies in bring-ing clarity and rigor to understanding Polanyi’s sophisticated work. This book neither offers a novel theoretical synthesis on Polanyi, nor does it resolve the many theoretical challenges created by some of Polanyi’s ideas."
Table of Contents of Karl Polanyi; Limits of the Market
- Introduction (Karl Polanyi for the neoliberal age / Individual responsibility and the quest for community/ Some systemically satanic features of capitalism / From civilizational breakdown to neoliberalism)
- Chapter 1: The economics and ethics of socialism (Responsibility and 'overview': the socialist accounting debate / Critique and rejoinder / The subjugation of moral ends to economic means / Towards a synthesis of Communism and Christianity
- Chapter 2: The Great Transformation (The Liberal Century: contradictions of a golden age / Birth of the market economy / Malthus, Ricardo and Speenhamland / Marketization and its backwash / Disruptive strains and the end of elasticity/ The originality of The Great Transformation / Some criticisms of the conceptual framework / Some criticisms of the historical argument
- Chapter 3: The descent of Economic Man (From homo œconomicus to homo communisticus / The debate over methods / From marginalism to formalism / Two meanings of economic / Mechanisms of integration / Inconsistencies and ambiguities / The formalist rejoinder / Marxist interpositions / The debate scatters and dissolves
- Chapter 4: Trade, markets and money in archaic societies (Introduction: the oikos debate / 'Primitive' and archaic trade, markets and money / Ancient Mesopotamia: three theses / Mesopotamia: evaluation and critique / Trade and markets in Bronze and Iron Age Greece / Greece: evaluation and critique / West Africa: Dahomey, Whydah and Tivland / Dahomey and the Tiv: evaluation and critique / From Meso-America to rural India via the Berber Highlands / Conclusion
- Chapter 5: 'Disembedded' and 'always embedded' economies (Embeddedness: a genealogy / Further adventures of a concept / Embeddedness and decommodification in the mid-twentieth century)
- Chapter 6: 'At the brink of a great transformation?' Neoliberalism and the countermovement today (Explaining the neoliberal ascendancy / Alternative futures: participatory planning and the mixed economy / No dearth of countermovements / Pendular forces / The Great Oscillation / In place of a conclusion: thoughts on the current predicamen / Conclusion / A liberal anti-Communist? / A Marxist? A Romantic? / Tribute and critique)
About Gareth Dale
Gareth Dale is a Senior Lecturer at Brunel University. Gareth’s current research focuses upon the growth paradigm, and the political economy of the environment, particularly climate change. His previous interests include the life and work of Karl Polanyi, the history of East Germany, the political economy of Eastern Europe, social movement theory, and international migration.