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Karl Polanyi

The native form of this personal name is Polnyi Kroly. other notable thinkers, such as Gyrgy Lukcs, Oszkr
This article uses the Western name order.
Jszi, and Karl Mannheim. Polanyi graduated from Budapest University in 1912 with a doctorate in Law. In
Karl Paul Polanyi (Hungarian: Polnyi Kroly [polai 1914, he helped found the Hungarian Radical Party and
served as its secretary.
karoj]; born October 25, 1886, Vienna, AustroHungarian Empire April 23, 1964, Pickering, On- Polanyi was a cavalry ocer the Austro-Hungarian Army
tario)[1] was a Hungarian-American economic historian, in World War I, in active service at the Russian Front and
economic anthropologist, political economist, historical hospitalized in Budapest. Polanyi supported the republisociologist and social philosopher. He is known for his can government of Mihly Krolyi and its Social Demoopposition to traditional economic thought and for his cratic regime. The republic was short-lived, however, and
book, The Great Transformation. Polanyi is remem- when Bla Kun toppled the Karolyi government to create
bered today as the originator of substantivism, a cul- the Hungarian Soviet Republic Polanyi left for Vienna.
tural approach to economics, which emphasized the way
economies are embedded in society and culture. This
view ran counter to mainstream economics but was popular in anthropology, economic history, economic soci- 2 In Vienna
ology and political science.
From 1924 to 1933 he was employed as a senior editor of
the prestigious Der sterreichische Volkswirt ('The Austrian Economist') magazine. It was at this time that he
rst began criticizing the Austrian School of economists,
who he felt created abstract models which lost sight of
the organic, interrelated reality of economic processes.
Polanyi himself was attracted to Fabianism and the works
of G. D. H. Cole. It was also during this period that
Polanyi grew interested in Christian Socialism.

Polanyis approach to the ancient economies has been

applied to a variety of cases, such as Pre-Columbian
America and ancient Mesopotamia, although its utility
to the study of ancient societies in general has been
questioned.[2] Polanyis The Great Transformation became a model for historical sociology. His theories eventually became the foundation for the economic democracy movement. His daughter Kari Polanyi Levitt is
Emerita Professor of Economics at McGill University,

He married the communist revolutionary

Duczyska, of Polish-Hungarian background.


Early life
3 In London

Polanyi was born into a Jewish family. His younger

brother was Michael Polanyi, a philosopher, and his niece
was Eva Zeisel, a world-renowned ceramist.[3] He was
born in Vienna, at the time the capital of the AustroHungarian Empire. Mihly Pollacsek father of Karl
and Michael Polanyi, was a railway entrepreneur. Mihly never changed the name Pollacsek and is buried
in the Jewish cemetery in Budapest. Karl and Michael
Polanyis mother was Ceclia Wohl. The name change to
Polanyi (not von Polanyi) was eected by Karl and his
siblings. Polanyi was well educated despite the ups and
downs of his fathers fortune, and he immersed himself
in Budapest's active intellectual and artistic scene.

Polanyi was asked to resign from Der Oesterreichische

Volkswirt because the liberal publisher of the journal
could not keep on a prominent socialist after the accession of Hitler to oce in January 1933 and the suspension
of the Austrian parliament by the rising tide of clerical
fascism in Austria. He left for London in 1933, where he
earned a living as a journalist and tutor and obtained a position as a lecturer for the Workers Educational Association in 1936. His lecture notes contained the research for
what later became The Great Transformation. However,
he would not start writing this work until 1940, when he
moved to Vermont to take up a position at Bennington
College. The book was published in 1944, to great acclaim. In it, Polanyi described the enclosure process in
England and the creation of the contemporary economic
system at the beginning of the 19th century.

Polanyi founded the radical and inuential Club Galilei

while at the University of Budapest, a club which
would have far reaching eects on Hungarian intellectual
thought. During this time, he was actively engaged with

United States and Canada


8 References

After the war, Polanyi received a teaching position at

Columbia University (1947-1953). However, his wife
had a background as a former communist, which made
gaining an entrance visa in the United States impossible.
As a result, they moved to Canada, and Polanyi commuted to New York City. In the early 1950s, Polanyi
received a large grant from the Ford Foundation to study
the economic systems of ancient empires.

McRobbie, Kenneth, ed. (1994), Humanity, Society and Commitment: On Karl Polanyi, Black Rose
Books Ltd., ISBN 1-895431-84-0

Having described the emergence of the modern economic

system, Polanyi now sought to understand how the economy emerged as a distinct sphere in the distant past. His
seminar at Columbia drew several famous scholars and
inuenced a generation of teachers, resulting in the 1957
volume Trade and Markets in the Early Empires. Polanyi
continued to write in his later years and established a
new journal entitled Coexistence. In Canada he resided
in Pickering, Ontario, where he died in 1964.

Mendell, Marguerite; Sale, Daniel (1991), The

Legacy of Karl Polanyi: Market, State, and Society at
the End of the Twentieth Century, St. Martins Press,
ISBN 0-312-04783-5

See also

The Great Transformation (1944)
Universal Capitalism or Regional Planning?, The
London Quarterly of World Aairs, vol. 10 (3)
Trade and Markets in the Early Empires (1957,
edited and with contributions by others)
Dahomey and the Slave Trade (1966)
George Dalton (ed), Primitive, Archaic, and Modern Economics: Essays of Karl Polanyi (New York:
Doubleday & Company, 1968); collected essays and
selections from his work.
Harry W. Pearson (ed.), The Livelihood of Man
(Academic Press, 1977).
Karl Polanyi, For a New West: Essays, 1919-1958
(Polity Press, 2014). ISBN 9780745684444


[1] Encyclopdia Britannica (Chicago: Encyclopdia Britannica Inc. 2003) vol 9. p.554
[2] For example, Morris Silver, Redistribution and Markets in the Economy of Ancient Mesopotamia: Updating
Polanyi, Antiguo Oriente 5 (2007): 89-112.

McRobbie, Kenneth; Polanyi-Levitt, Kari, eds.

(2000), Karl Polanyi in Vienna: The Contemporary
Signicance of The Great Transformation, Black
Rose Books Ltd., ISBN 1-55164-142-9

Polanyi-Levitt, Kari, ed. (1990), The Life and Work

of Karl Polanyi: A Celebration, Black Rose Books
Ltd., ISBN 0-921689-80-2
Staneld, J. Ron (1986), The Economic Thought
of Karl Polanyi: Lives and Livelihood, Macmillan,
ISBN 0-333-39629-4
Dale, Gareth (2010), Karl Polanyi: The Limits of the
Market, Polity, ISBN 978-0-7456-4072-3

9 External links
The Karl Polanyi Institute of Political Economy The Karl Polanyi Institute of Political Economy at
Concordia University web site.
Karl Polanyi, The Great Transformation: The Political and Economic Origins of Our Time (1944) Review Essay by Anne Mayhew, College of Arts and
Sciences, University of Tennessee
Prole on Karl Polanyi - On the History of Economic Thought Website
Kari Polanyi Levitt
Karl Polanyi (video) from Marginal Revolution University
The free market is an impossible utopia (2014-0718), The Washington Post. A conversation with
Fred Block and Margaret Somers on their book, The
Power of Market Fundamentalism: Karl Polanyis
Critique (Harvard University Press, 2014). The
book argues that the ideas of Karl Polanyi are crucial
to help understand economic recessions and their aftermath.


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