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Read our new Debate on the Contested Provisioning of Care & Housing

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the Contested Provisioning of Care & Housing

15th of September, 2022

Andreas Novy & Brigitte Aulenbacher

The Austrian Academy of Science has funded a three year research project coordinated by Johannes-Kepler University Linz and Vienna University of Economics and Business on “The Contested Provisioning of Care and Housing” ( The project, which finances four PhD-students, investigates current transformations of care and housing provision by drawing on insights from Karl Polanyi. Care and housing are undergoing profound changes in contemporary market societies: on the one hand, we are witnessing a market shift towards enforced commodification of care and housing, on the other hand, there is a community shift potentially going along with their decommodification. Both, market- and community-based forms of care and housing provision are embedded in relations of dominance and inequality and are thus contested. In this context, the IKPS has organized a debate on the “Contested Provisioning of Care and Housing”. It invited contributions shedding light on the contestation of care and housing provision by drawing on Polanyi’s core concepts:

(1) his substantive understanding of the economy, defined broadly as the organization of livelihoods,
(2) his four economic principles of (market) exchange, reciprocity, redistribution and householding,
(3) his concept of fictitious commodities and the related research on the commodification of goods (like housing) and services (like care) which have not been produced for exchange on markets and
(4) his analysis of a double movement of marketization (movement) and social protection (countermovement) that characterizes market societies. The contributions to this debate ideally try to discuss some of the following questions:

  • What are commonalities and particularities of care and housing provision/regimes in different countries? How can Polanyian concepts enrich such (regime) analyses?
  • What are commonalities and particularities of double movements, of marketization and social protection in care and housing?
  • How does the sector-specific composition of the principles of economic behavior and dynamics of the double movement impact relations of dominance and inequality as well as their contestation in the field of care and housing?

The debate strived to bring together experts from both research areas, to exchange and advance perspectives on care and housing and, moreover, to discuss how Polanyi’s work can inspire the investigation of their contested societal provisioning.

Benjamin Baumgartner

Valentin Fröhlich

Florian Pimminger

Hans Volmary

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The end of neoliberalism?

Debate on The Contested Provisioning of Care and Housing

The end of neoliberalism?

15th of September, 2022

Richard Bärnthaler

Even though arguments about a supposed ‘return of the state’ in the course of the Covid-19 crisis are imprecise – for the state has never been absent – we have been witnessing a notable reconfiguration of the roles Western states play in the economy, shifting from a strong emphasis on market-making towards a more pronounced presence of market-direction, i.e. “acts by the state that seek to direct markets towards certain desired longer-term outcomes and purposes by steering the accumulation process itself” (van Apeldoorn & de Graaff 2022, 4). Furthermore, the Russia-Ukraine war has revealed the illusion that the triumph and expansion of market-liberalism would foster democracy and secure peace as self-mockery at best. In the face of rising geopolitical tensions, arguments for selective deglobalisation (alias selective regionalisation) have increasingly entered dominant political discourse. Is this the end of neoliberalism, the beginning of a great transformation? This question also preoccupied the participants of the workshop ‘Contested Care and Housing’. While some argued that the end of neoliberalism is indeed approaching, others disagreed, arguing that recent neoliberal anomalies are just those (Gramscian) morbid symptoms that appear when the old is dying but the new cannot be born. Without taking sides, I deem it useful to call to mind the conviction of the great historian Eric Hobsbawm: the result of a horse race can only be told with absolute confidence once that race has already been run. The neoliberal horse race is still ongoing.

All the same: something is changing; the (jolly old) favorite is groggy, not just because its physical appearance has altered but because its mentality is in crisis. The mentality that neoliberalism has built upon can be summarized in the well-known abbreviation TINA – ‘There Is No Alternative’. Many have argued that there is a non-dissociable link between TINA and neoliberalism; some have even suggested that it is the main feature of it. If TINA is indeed part of neoliberal’s DNA, the latter is in an existential crisis. Based on the assumption that individual consumer preferences determine demand, thus price, and thus value, neoliberals have insisted that any distinction, e.g. between necessities and luxuries, even if democratically legitimated, is (market-)unfair and thus reprehensible. There is no alternative to determining societal directionality through consumer choices. All of a sudden, however, alternatives were put into practice during the pandemic: governments published lists of essential workers, shut down certain parts of the economy, and, in the US, even obliged GM to switch their production from cars to ventilators. Similarly, with the war in the Ukraine, governments started to develop plans to determine which industries will have to endure cuts in energy supply if gas becomes short.

(The end of no) alternatives have become broadly conceivable – if not out of conviction, then out of necessity. Drawing upon Bob Jessop’s distinction, the perception of certain crises has changed from “crises in” towards “crises of”, i.e. from crises that can be managed through routinized TINA-adjustments (e.g. by shifting its effects elsewhere, into the future or on vulnerable groups) towards a crisis of (neoliberal) crises management itself. Severe crisis symptoms, e.g. surging prices on everyday necessities, have afflicted broad sections of the Western population and, increasingly unable to shift these effects elsewhere (let alone solving them), normal (read: TINA) responses no longer work.

Surely, the adaptability and resilience of neoliberalism (not to be confused with the resilience of society, which has been undermined continuously by neoliberalism) must not be underestimated. Neoliberalism is, albeit not well, still alive and powerful forces will continue their attempts to nurture and enforce its logics. TINA, however, is dead. Hence, the key questions are: How essential is this discursive building block for neoliberalism? Can neoliberalism do without it? And if so, how would such a neoliberal mutation look like? (Much more authoritarian, probably). Are European decision-makers stupid enough to re-enter a neoliberal path of austerity, even if the result – the rise of Le Pens, Orbans, and Katschinskis – is foreseeable? In the current conjuncture, Polanyi’s lifelong conviction seems to find its way back into hegemonic discourse: ‘There Are Many and Real Alternatives’ (TAMARA). Neoliberalism might still be one of them, but others have been re-discovered. In particular, there are crucial lessons to learn from “war economies” and their ability to mobilise resources and make substantial economic adjustments to accommodate a specific societal goal. In an era of increasing social-ecological crises, an adapted form of a “war economy”, aiming not at defense production but at sufficiency, i.e. at having enough in the double sense of the word (neither too much, nor too little), might indeed constitute the most effective politico-economic arrangement to satisfy needs within ecological limits.


van Apeldoorn, B., & de Graaff, N. (2022). The state in global capitalism before and after the Covid-19 crisis. Contemporary Politics, 28(3), 306–327.

Richard Bärnthaler

Richard Bärnthaler is a prae doc researcher at the Vienna University of Economics and Business, Institute for Multi-Level Governance and Development. His research focuses on strategies for a social-ecological transformation. He is a.o. winner of the Kurt Rothschild Award for Economic Journalism and Research 2019, member of the International Karl Polanyi Society and part of the Vienna Foundational Economy Collective.

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Articulations between neoliberal social-policy reforms and the shift to the far-right through the light of Polanyi’s theory of fascism

Debate on The Contested Provisioning of Care and Housing

Articulations between neoliberal social-policy reforms and the shift to the far-right through the light of Polanyi’s theory of fascism [1]

15th of September, 2022

Roland Atzmüller

The crisis of financialised capitalism since 2008 and the subsequent sovereign debt crisis led to austerity regimes and imposed cuts in welfare systems in many countries which reinforced the neoliberal dominance over economic and social policies in most European countries. These developments were accompanied by a global upsurge of far-right and right-wing populist movements and parties. The latter are increasingly able to combine grievances about social and economic crisis with the rejection of a range of socio-political and cultural developments concerning e.g. the transformation of the overcome gender division of labour linked to changing family forms and increasing female employment, the social recognition of queer identities and different sexual orientations and genders or the social conflicts about the creation of sustainable lifestyles fighting climate change and their impact on everyday live (e.g. reduction of cars, meat consumption etc.).

The upsurge of far-right and right-wing populist movements and parties has led many observers to understand them as an oppositional albeit nationalist reaction of society – even a “counter-movement” in a Polanyian sense – against the destructive effects of unfettered markets and financialisation fostered by neoliberalism. Others, referring more strongly to the socio-political and cultural orientations of these actors, are asking whether these movements and parties bring about a radicalisation of the still unfolding neoliberal transformation of capitalist societies through combining a nationalist reaction to the economic crisis with an authoritarian transformation of social and cultural relations. For some insights into these questions, a closer look on Karl Polanyi’s analyses (1979; Polanyi 2001) on the emergence of far-right, fascist movements and parties in the crisis of capitalist societies in the first half of the 20th century proves very useful. Against a schematic interpretation of his major work “The Great Transformation” (Polanyi 2001) Polanyi’s (earlier) analyses of Fascism (Polanyi 1979, 2005, 2018) reveal that he viewed these movements not only as a reaction to the crisis of unfettered market expansion and the subsequent increase of unemployment and poverty. Rather he explicitly linked Fascism also to the post-WWI expansion of democracy, individual freedoms and social policies which rest on the assumption of equality of all human beings, which they want to improve (e.g. expansion of welfare systems). For him, Fascism was an answer to the political stalemate and crisis which the unresolved tensions between the outlined developments and liberal market expansion had created in the 1920s.

Thus, in his papers of the 1930s about Fascism (Polanyi 1979) as well as in The Great Transformation (Polanyi 2001) he labelled Fascism as a political project to rescue capitalist societies from the crisis. For this, Polanyi identified three core elements of fascist philosophy (2001, p. 247). Thus, Fascism represents a move(ment) which aims at rescuing capitalism through first, an attack on and the destruction of democracy, second, the abolition of individual freedom within society (Polanyi, 2018a) and third, by grounding the institutional structures of society on assumptions of fundamental and hierarchical – based on national or ethnic affiliations – inequalities between human beings. Thus, for Polany faschism set in place a revolutionary reorganisation of the whole state and social fabric. This amounted to a full scale attack on and abolition of all democratic institutions and processes, rights and organisations (Polanyi, 2005, p. 219) as well as the imposition of policies to enforce new forms of docile subjectivities – if necessary through torture and violence (Polanyi 2001, 245).

Polanyi’s account on Fascism helps to understand the role and function of far-right “countermovements” in the crises of market societies – namely its anti-individualistic core, its rejection of universalist assumptions about the equality of individuals within society (Polanyi, 2018a, p. 96) and its denial of the legitimacy of individual gains of autonomy (Vobruba 2014) (“freedom”) and emancipation enabled through the expansion of protective social institutions such as welfare systems. He juxtaposed the fascist rejection of individual freedom to its universalistic opposite which expands through the democratisation of society and will be fully realised in a socialist future.

Polanyi’s conceptualisation of Fascism allows to understand how the emerging aporias and contradictions of neo-liberal welfare reforms opened spaces for far-right populism and its authoritarian social and political goals and how these political projects could converge (Atzmüller/Décieux 2019a, 2019b). From the start, neoliberal reform projects aimed at a retrenchment of democratic participation of e.g. unions, welfare retrenchment and the expansion and liberalisation of markets. These enabled about a global expansion of inequality and an enforced commodification of social reproduction which undermined the expansion of individual gains of autonomy and emancipation. The contradictions of neoliberal economic reforms pushed capitalist social formations in unfolding circles of multiple crisis as the former consciously undermined and destroyed the social (and political) embedding of the economy. Against this background, farright parties and movements promise to tackle the multiple crisis of capitalist social formations which emerge from the contradictions between the dynamics of market expansion and the commodification of social developments on the one hand and the crisis induced changing demands of social and ecological reproduction. They try to do so via a nationalist and reactionary attack on and reorganisation of welfare institutions and social policies These include the enforced return to traditional gender roles and divisions of labour in the core family and nativist social policies to counter an alleged replacement of autochthonous populations. The weakening of democratic institutions appears as a crucial instrument to implement these changes and bring about so-called illiberal democracies.

[1]This text is based on two joint publications with Fabienne Décieux.  (Atzmüller/Décieux 2019a); Atzmüller/Décieux (2019b).


Atzmüller, Roland/Décieux, Fabienne, 2019a: “Freedom’s utter frustration . . .”: Neoliberal social-policy reforms and the shift to the far-right through Polanyi’s theory of fascism. In: Atzmüller, Roland/Aulenbacher, Brigitte/Brand, Ulrich/Décieux, Fabienne/Fischer, Karin/Sauer, Birgit (Hg.): Capitalism in transformation. Movements and countermovements in the 21st century. Cheltenham, UK u.a., 135–151.

Atzmüller, Roland/Décieux, Fabienne, 2019b: “The origins of our time”. Articulations between neoliberal social-policy reforms and the shift to the far-right through the light of Polanyi’s theory of fascism. Social Work & Society. 18. Jg. Heft 1.

Polanyi, Karl, 1979: Das Wesen des Faschismus. In: – (Hg.): Ökonomie und Gesellschaft. Frankfurt/Main, 91–125.

Polanyi, Karl, 2001: The great transformation. The political and economic origins of our time. Boston.

Polanyi, Karl, 2005: Die geistigen Voraussetzungen des Faschismus. In: – (Hg.): Chronik der grossen Transformation. Artikel und Aufsätze (1920-1947). Menschliche Freiheit, politische Demokratie und die Auseinandersetzung zwischen Sozialismus und Faschismus. Herausgegeben von Michele Cangiani, Kari Polanyi-Levitt und Claus Thomasberger. Marburg.

Polanyi, Karl, 2018: The fascist virus. In: – (Hg.): Economy and society. Selected writings. Edited by Michele Cangiani and Claus Thomasberger. Cambridge/Medford, 108–122.

Vobruba, Georg, 2014: Autonomiegewinne und Gesellschaftskritik. In: Fehmel, Thilo (Hg.): Systemzwang und Akteurswissen. Theorie und Empirie von Autonomiegewinnen. Frankfurt am Main u.a., 265–281.

Roland Azmüller

Roland Atzmüller is Associate Professor at the Institute of Sociology at the Department of social theory and social analyses at Johannes Kepler University in Linz, Austria. Before, he was a researcher at the Working Lives Center Vienna (FORBA). He has co-edited ‘Capitalism in transformation: Movements and Countermovements in the 21st Century, Edward Elgar Publishing, Northampton, 2019’ together with Brigitte Aulenbacher. In this book he published with Fabienne Décieux “Freedom’s utter frustration . . .: Neoliberal social-policy reforms and the shift to the far-right through Polanyi’s theory of fascism”. Roland Atzmüller works on (critical) theories of capitalist societies, welfare states and social policies with an amphasis on labour market policies and is a Board Member of the IKPS.

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Socialisation of housing in Sweden and Denmark: a Polanyian lesson

Debate on The Contested Provisioning of Care and Housing

Socialisation of housing in Sweden and Denmark: a Polanyian lesson

15th of September, 2022

Eric Clark

Commodification, financialisation and marketisation of housing have been core objectives and main outcomes of the neoliberalisation of housing politics. These processes have restructured the institutional conditions surrounding the provision of housing in recent decades, across Europe, and not least in the Nordic countries. Polanyi’s substantivist approach to political economy, with its pivotal conceptualisations of modes of economic integration (householding, reciprocity, redistribution and exchange) and double movements (marketisation and social protection), offers a robust framework for analysing such related yet variegated processes. [1] The histories of non-profit housing in Sweden (allmännyttan) and Denmark (almen) (allmän and almen translate to ‘common’) lend themselves particularly well to drawing a specific lesson from a Polanyian perspective, due to a key distinction: in the Swedish case, allmännyttan has historically been instituted by the local state (municipally owned and managed housing companies), while in Denmark, almen has rather been constituted as a form of association-based tenant-owned housing. Both of these decommodified housing sectors are products of socially protective countermovements to “the devastation of neighbourhoods”, “the general degradation of housing”, and “all-round dislocation” associated with late 19th and early 20th century marketised housing. [2] And both have been targeted by neoliberal politics in concert with powerful financial interests in order to privatise and recommodify them, thereby expanding the scope of debt and mortgage markets. The question arises: how have these distinctly different institutions fared in terms of resistance to the neoliberal offensive to marketise their housing?

      Strongly regulated and subsidised by the state, Swedish municipal rental housing (allmännyttan) grew to become, by 1980, the second largest tenure form in the country, surpassing private rental. This form of socialisation of housing has however proven vulnerable to neoliberal attacks, once the longstanding Social Democratic hegemony was broken in 1991. Carl Bildt’s right-wing government promptly initiated a radical dismantling of national housing policies. Subsequent Social Democratic governments (1994-2006) did little to reverse direction, and Fredrik Reinfeldt’s right-wing government (2006-2014) could rapidly achieve a massive withdrawal of national housing policies. [3] Housing was relegated to a minor task under the Ministry of Municipalities and Financial Markets (yes, in the same ministry), its minister proclaiming that “We don’t have any lorry department for lorry issues, or any lorry minister. Why should we have one for housing?” [4] Housing responsibilities and politics devolved to local governments. The only central government goal was a well-functioning market. Market fundamentalism prevailed: decommodified housing was recommodified. Allmännyttan declined from 25% in 1990 to 17% in 2010, as sell-outs (commonly much below market values) outstripped diminishing new construction. Allmännyttan is currently the smallest segment of housing in Sweden, and appears to soon reach a level below its 1960 position at 14%.

      In Denmark, the Social Democratic party never achieved the level of hegemony as in Sweden. The formation of the Danish welfare state was much more the product of compromise with liberal-conservative forces. Housing owned and operated by the local state was not politically feasible in Denmark. The compromise reached was a form of non-profit housing (almen) collectively owned by private associations of tenants under a national umbrella organisation: Danmarks Almene Boliger. [5] While Swedish allmännyttan peaked around 1990, the Danish almen grew steadily from 10% in 1960 to 21% in 2020. As in Bildt’s and Reinfeldt’s Sweden, almen also came under neoliberal attack in Anders Fogh Rasmussen’s (2001-2009) and Lars Løkke Rasmussen’s (2009-2011, 2015-2019) Denmark. But, being a form of collective private property, almen has not been so easy to dismantle as Sweden’s municipal-owned allmännyttan. It is, after all, private property. The Danish government’s “stealthy and frontal attacks” are too complex to summarise here. Suffice it to say that so far, almen has withstood these attacks, and the main reason for this resistance appears to lie in its collective ownership and strong organisation “outside the (local) state”. [6]

      Regarding the specific composition of Swedish allmännyttan and Danish almen in terms of Polanyi’s modes (forms, patterns, principles) of economic integration, it would run counter to Polanyi’s view to simply categorise allmännyttan as state redistribution and almen as community reciprocity. The extent to which Polanyi thought of forms of economic integration as ideal types remains a matter of discussion. [7] It is nevertheless not helpful today to interpret, much less deploy, Polanyi’s theoretical framework as merely a set of ideal types, with all the methodological weaknesses this entails. [8] Polanyi repeatedly insisted that modes of integration do not provide a “classification of economic systems”, even if one mode “may predominate”; rather, their “coexistence … is common.” [9] For instance, “Reciprocity as a form of integration gains greatly in power through its capacity of employing both redistribution and exchange as subordinate methods.” [10] Owner-occupied housing, while economically integrated largely through market exchange, has long been heavily buttressed by state redistribution through production subsidies and tax deductions in both Sweden and Denmark. Likewise, allmännyttan is not economically integrated solely through state redistribution, nor almen solely through community reciprocity. The Danish almen is characterised also by non-state redistribution as well as state redistribution; just as the Swedish allmännyttan is also characterised by what may be called local state reciprocity. The name kommun suggests as much.

      So, what Polanyian lesson might we gain from studying the history of Swedish allmännyttan and Danish almen? I think Polanyi’s 1919 argument nails it: “Socialisation should not be synonymous with state economy.” [11] Socially protective countermovements to the destructive forces of marketisation should not be limited to state redistribution through (local) state institutions and programs (which may be more or less emancipatory, more or less patronising). [12] As the experience of allmännyttan shows, these can be dismantled and taken away much more easily than they are built up.

[1] Novy, A, Bärnthaler, R and Stadelmann, B, 2019, Navigating between improvement and habitation: countermovements in housing and urban infrastructure in Vienna. In Atzmüller, R, Aulenbacher, B, Brand, U et al., (eds.) Capitalism in Transformation: Movements and Countermovements in the 21st Century. Edward Elgar, 228-244. Bärnthaler, R, Novy, R, and Stadelmann, B, 2020, A Polanyi-inspired perspective on social-ecological transformations of cities, Journal of Urban Affairs.

[2] Polanyi, K, 2001, The Great Transformation: The Political and Economic Origins of Our Time. Beacon Press, pp. 139, 190.

[3] Hedin, K, Clark, E, Lundholm, E and Malmberg, G, 2012, Neoliberalization of housing in Sweden: gentrification, filtering, and social polarization, Annals of the Association of American Geographers, 102(2), 442-463. Christophers, B, 2013, A monstrous hybrid: the political economy of housing in early twenty-first century Sweden, New Political Economy, 18(6), 885-911.

[4] Mats Odell, interviewed in Planera, Bygga, Bo, Number 1, 2007.

[5] Larsen, HG, and Lund Hansen, A, 2015, Commodifying Danish housing commons, Geografiska Annual: Series B, Human Geography, 97(3), 263-274. Larsen, HG and Lund Hansen, A, 2016, Wohnen als öffentliches Gut auf dem Prüfstand: Wohnungsreformen in Dänemark und Schweden, Geographische Rundschau, 68(6), 26-31.

[6] Larsen and Lund Hansen 2015, pp. 268 and 272.

[7] Dale, G, 2010, Karl Polanyi: The Limits of the Market. Polity Press. 

[8] Sayer, A, 1992, Method in Social Science: A Realist Approach. Routledge.

[9] Polanyi, K, 1968, Primitive, Archaic and Modern Economies: Essays of Karl Polanyi. Beacon Press, p. 309.

[10] Polanyi, K, 1957, The economy as instituted process. In Polanyi, K, Arensberg, CM and Pearson, HW (eds.) Trade and Market in the Early Empires: Economies in History and Theory. Free Press, p. 253.

[11] Polanyi, K, 2014, For a New West: Essays, 1919—1958. Polity Press, p. 172.

[12] Fraser, N, 2013, A triple movement? Parsing the politics of crisis after Polanyi, New Left Review, 81, 119-132. Brie, M, (ed), 2017, Karl Polanyi in Dialogue: A Socialist Thinker of Our Times. Black Rose Books.


Eric Clark

Eric Clark is professor emeritus at Lund University. His research interests include the political economy of urban change, gentrification, island development, sustainability, financialisation, and more recently, critical agrarian and food studies. He is currently establishing a small forest garden in rural Blekinge (southeast Sweden).

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The spatiality of Polanyi’s economic principles – implications for a foundational approach

Debate on The Contested Provisioning of Care and Housing

The spatiality of Polanyi’s economic principles – implications for a foundational approach

15th of September, 2022

Andreas Novy

The foundational approach is probably one of the most interesting conceptual innovations in economics in the last years (The Foundational Economy Collective 2018). Its key argument is that the economy consists of different zones and must not be reduced to one big market: retailing is not constructing; loaning is not caring. Following Fernand Braudel (1981), different economic zones function according to different logics: caring is a long-term, often place-based relation, working at the stock exchange aims at exploiting short-term financial dynamics, often in global markets. Therefore, foundational activities that take care of everyday needs have to be distinguished from other economic activities, especially the buying and selling of tradeable goods. Foundational activities are the infrastructure of everyday life, necessary for routine everyday activities from eating to housing and, therefore, need to be provided regularly and for all. They cover the core economy of non-monetary work as well as material and social infrastructures for energy, water, health and education. Other economic activities are in general world-market oriented, producing comfort goods and luxuries that characterize contemporary capitalist societies: from laptops to long-distance travelling. Furthermore, the world-market oriented economy produces essential intermediate inputs for the foundational economy, like pipes, rails, machines and medical apparatuses. Both, the foundational and the world-market oriented economy are interrelated, depending on one another. However, according to the Foundational Economy Collective, as the pandemic and weather extremes like fires and droughts have shown: the foundational is the basis, the remaining zones have a supporting role. This is the revolutionary essence of the foundational approach for economic thought by inverting priorities.

Over the last years, the plausibility of such a zoning of economic activities has constantly increased, first with the pandemic and now with the gas crisis due to the war in Ukraine: certain economic activities are foundational and, therefore, more important than others: hospitals and infrastructure provisioning of water, energy and waste-collection cannot even be closed during a lockdown (Foundational Economy Collective 2020). In case of a necessary allotment of gas, the same questions are on the public and political agenda anew: Shall citizens receive gas to warm their homes or shall industry receive gas to secure jobs? The foundational economy offers a conceptualization to deal with these challenges by reminding of its core function of “organizing the livelihood” (Polanyi 1977). It puts the economy again on its foots, thereby subordinating the world-market oriented economy to economic activitites that directly guarantee the provisioning of foundational goods and services. In times of climate crisis, the hiearchy is clear: if some economic activities have to reduce resource-use or even shrink, the foundational sector remains prioritized, the consumption of luxuries, in part also the provisioning of comfort goods and services, must be constrained (Bärnthaler, Novy, and Plank 2021).

Karl Polanyi´s economic principles can enrich this contemporary attempt to reconceptualize the economy. According to his substantivist understanding of the economy, it organizes the livelihood by means of diverse institutions. He identified four main economic principles that help organizing the livelihood in a mixed economy: householding. reciprocity, market exchange and redistribution.

Householding “consists in production for one´s own use” (Polanyi 2001:51). It is organized in self sufficient units, originally the greek oikos and until today often the household. It consists in “producing and storing for the satisfaction of the wants of the members of the group”. (Polanyi 2001:56). Reciprocity, the second principle, is based on an “institutional pattern of symmetry” (Polanyi 2001:51), constituted by symmetrical social relations like kinship, community, an association or village. Key logics are mutuality, status and kinships. Key means are gifts, sometimes there are even bans on equivalency. Householding and reciprocity have been downgraded in capitalism in general, and even more in neoliberal globalization. Both tend to be based on thick place-based relations, reciprocity is sometimes accompanied by wider, even global networks, enabled by information technologies, eg. chatting via zoom with relatives. Both are decisive for parts of the foundational economy, especially those activities related to care, paid as well as unpaid. Therefore, a strengthened care economy is at the core of place-based development strategies which aim at upgrading and regenerating local infrastructures and economies.

Market exchange, the third priniciple, is based on prices and quantitative relations, like sale and purchase, renting and hiring, loaning and borrowing. Capitalist markets are based on flows and networks of money, goods and services. It has been promoted by neoliberal policies and has been the key driver of globalization. It creates global relations via the cash nexus. Neoliberal globalization, especially with its last efforts to reduce non-tariff-trade barriers like patenting, has come near to the liberal utopia of “One Big Market” of globalized production networks and financial markets, trading everything everywhere. An example is housing, which has increasingly become an asset which is traded by wealthy individuals, while for others it has remained the key infrastructure for everyday life. Evictions for some, increasing problems of affordability for many have been the incredients of an upcoming housing crisis. The excessive marketization, in housing and other economic activities, has, as predicted by Polanyi, created countermovements, increasingly reactionary ones, that have led to a deep, probably final crisis of neoliberal globalization – defined as market-based globalization dominated by the West. The arising geopolitical conflict, especially the on between the West and China, will not be resolved quickly. Therefore, markets will be even more politicized, territories will again gain in importance.

Redistribution, the fourth principle, requires a center with adequate infrastructures to redistribute goods and services in a socially just way. Its means are storage, taxation and law. It requires political control, including the control over a certain territory: „And the larger the territory and the more varied the produce, the more will redistribution result in an effective division of labor, since it must help to link up geographically differentiated groups of producers” (Polanyi 2001:51). Therefore, a “hollowing out of the nation state” that is not accompanied by reterritorializations at other levels that take over redistributive tasks from the nation state (eg. municipal or EU) will lead to a declining capacity of policy makers to redistribute.

Redistribution, however, is a form of regulation that is necessary to impose a new hierarchy on economic activities, favouring the provisioning of foundational goods, services and infrastructures. Indeed, in the aftermath of the pandemic and due to accelerating climate crisis, there are increasing pleas for renewed redistributive policies not only to sustain social cohesion, but also to curtail CO2-emission enhancing overconsumption. If policy makers want to design economies that satisfy needs without transgressing planetary boundaries, planning is needed for restricting and embedding markets as well as for territory-based strategies of redistribution. Thereby, a sustainable and inclusive forms of reterritorialization can overcome neoliberal globalisation. Such strategies have to mobilize expert knowledge as well as fostering civic participation. They are alternatives to chaotic deglobalization due to geopolitical struggles (Novy 2022). On the one hand, they foster regionalisation as a form of territorialisation, that means a bounded policy space. For long, the EU as the dominant european integration project has promoted a market-based form of regionalization which has mainly reduced market barriers. Such a regionalization is very different from the one that Polanyi envisioned. A regionalization in line with Polanyi is a form of selective economic deglobalization that aims at strenghtening the foundational economy, centered on sustainability, inclusion and participation. It must not be conflated with autarky. The main difference to current EU integration would be that the EU-territory would have a clear economic border which creates an internal economy ruled not only by market logic. Capital control and border ajustment taxes would be prerequisites for enlarging the internal economic zones dominated by householding, reciprocity and redistribution. On the other hand, it is a form of multi-level transformation that acknowledges the necessity of policies at multiple levels, from municipal provision of infrastructures, to national regulations of rent and eco-social tax systems to European greening of the internal market and global “traffic rules” to limit the power of transnational corporations and financial markets. Therefore, it combines strengthening the foundational economy with planetary co-existence and the protection of global commons, like peace and the climate (Eder and Novy 2021). Such multi-level transformation strategies remain the most effective and feasible alternative to a world in inimical confrontation, be it economic or military.

Bärnthaler, Richard, Andreas Novy, and Leonhard Plank. 2021. ‘The Foundational Economy as a Cornerstone for a Social–Ecological Transformation’. Sustainability 13(18). doi: 10.3390/su131810460.

Braudel, Fernand. 1981. The Structures of Everyday Life. Civilization and Capitalism. New York: Harper & Row.

Eder, Julia, and Andreas Novy. 2021. Beyond Globalization and Deglobalization – Where to Start? A Polanyian Multi-Level Development Strategy to Provide a Good Life for All within Planetary Boundaries. Vienna: IKPS.

Foundational Economy Collective. 2020. ‘What Comes after the Pandemic? A Ten-Point Platform for Foundational Renewal’.

Novy, Andreas. 2022. ‘The Political Trilemma of Contemporary Social-Ecological Transformation – Lessons from Karl Polanyi’s The Great Transformation’. Globalizations 19(1):59–80. doi: 10.1080/14747731.2020.1850073.

Polanyi, Karl. 1977. The Livelihood of Man. New York: Academic Press.

Polanyi, Karl. 2001. The Great Transformation. The Political and Economic Origins of Our Times. Boston: Beacon Press.

The Foundational Economy Collective. 2018. Foundational Economy. The Infrastructure of Everyday Life. Manchester: Manchester University Press.

Andreas Novy

Andreas Novy is a socioeconomist who has worked and published widely in the field of urban development, international political economy, social innovation and social-ecological transformation. He is associate professor and head of the Institute for Multi-Level Governance and Development at the Department of Socioeconomics at WU Vienna. In 2019 he received, together with Brigitte Aulenbacher, Richard Bärnthaler and Veronika Heimerl, the Kurt-Rothschild-Award for his work on Karl Polanyi. He has been head of the Austrian Green Foundation, co-founder of the Viennese Paulo Freire Center and co-organizer of two Good Life for all-Congresses in Vienna. He is president and co-founder of the IKPS.

Read the other essays on the Contested Provisioning of Care and Housing here: 

Invitation to our Fall Webinar Series

Fall 22 Webinar Series

Shaping provisioning systems for social-ecological transformation

We are delighted to inform you of our upcoming Fall 22 webinar series on “Shaping Provisioning Systems for Social-Ecological Transformation” after our sucessful  Deglobalization & Social-Ecological Transformation  series.

31st July, 2022

Shaping Provisioning Systems for Social-Ecological Transformation Webinar Series

In light of accelerating social-ecological crises, the IPCC report calls for “rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society to limit global warming to 1.5 degree Celsius”. How can such an unprecedented transformation take place? Climate research has increasingly highlighted the insufficiency of individual behavioral changes (e.g. green consumerism), shifting the attention to the framework conditions – so-called provisioning systems (e.g. those for energy, food, or mobility) – that enable and constrain individual behavior. Provisioning systems, including elements such as infrastructures and diverse regulations, structure how everyday life can be lived, thereby establishing the conditions of possibility for climate-friendly living. While it is desirable to behave responsibly within existing framework conditions, it is much more important that more and more actors work together to change them. Thus, the key challenge of a social-ecological transformation consists in shaping provisioning systems collectively in a coordinated and goal-oriented way. This webinar series, consisting of three webinars, addresses this challenge from various angles. 

October 4th 2022, 6:30 pm (CET)
A match made in heaven? Synergies between ecological and social provisioning outcomes

October 18th 2022, 6:30 pm (CET)
My good life without me? Potentials and obstacles in democratizing provision systems for a social-ecological transformation

November 8th 2022, 6:30 pm (CET)
Transformation, here and now? Intervention strategies for a social-ecological transformation in diverse provisioning systems

Facilitators: Colleen Schneider, Richard Bärnthaler, Andreas Novy.

Organized by:
Institute for Multilevel-Governance and Development (WU Vienna);
Institute for Ecological Economics (WU Vienna);
International Karl Polanyi Society

In cooperation with Rosa Luxemburg Foundation, Brussels 


Find out more about our Webinar Series

Meeting-ID: 917 1394 9872
Zoom Code: 178033

Meeting-ID: 912 8678 2433
Zoom Code: 870479

Meeting-ID: 930 5273 9179
Zoom Code: 858852

More ‘News’: 

We invite you to dive deeper with us into the topic of “provisioning” with the fields of care & housing
We are delighted to invite you to our New Webinar Series on “Shaping Provisioning Systems for Social-Ecological Transformation”
Einstieg in das Leben und Werk Karl Polanyi’s – die Vorträge als Videos
Einladung zu unserer Ausstellungs-Finissage
Join us for the public lecture by our third Vienna Karl Polanyi Visiting Professor Ayşe Buğra on May 17th @7pm
In Vienna for the first time! From May 4th to June 21st at the Wirtschaftsmuseum Wien!
Andreas Novy in INTERNATIONAL – der Zeitschrift für Internationale Politik zu Freiheitsverständnissen in der Pandemiepolitik.
Interview with IKPS Vice-President Dr. Brigitte Aulenbacher on the topic of “The Great Transformation” for CAOÖ Podcast. 20th of September.
Zhang Runkun on the Importance of Polanyi’s work in China. 31st of May.

Vorträge zur Ausstellung zum “Nachsehen”

Vorträge zur Ausstellung zum "Nachsehen"

Polanyi zum kennenlernen

Unsere Ausstellung “Karl Polanyi – Von der entfesselten Wirtschaft zur solidarischen Gesellschaft” ist ein hoch informativer, dichter Beitrag zu unserer Aufgabe das Werk dieses großen Denkers zu vermitteln. Die Vorträge zu seiner Zeit in Wien und dem Konzept der Ausstellung dienen als hervorragender Einstieg in seine Biografie.

10th May, 2022

Die Vorträge als Einstieg ins Werk Polanyi’s

Am 3.Mai 2022 fand die feierliche Eröffnung der Ausstellung “Karl Polanyi – Von der entfesselten Wirtschaft zur solidarischen Gesellschaft” im österreichischen Gesellschafts- und Wirtschaftsmuseum in Wien statt.

Die von der International Karl Polanyi Society publizierte Ausstellung zum Leben und Wirken Karl Polanyis war damit zum ersten Mal in Wien zu sehen. Besucher_Innen bekamen Einblick in Polanyis Werk durch informative Vorträge von Expert_Innen wie Brigitte Aulenbacher und Claus Thomasberger.

Eröffnung durch Harald Lindenhofer vom Wirtschaftsmuseum Wien

Begrüßung durch Andreas Novy

Claus Thomasberger “Karl Polanyi und das rote Wien”
Karl Polanyi und das Rote Wien – eine vielschichtige Beziehung: 1886 in Wien geboren, kam Polanyi im Jahr 1919 – schwerkrank und durch eine Kriegsverletzung geschwächt – in die Stadt zurück. Hier traf er seine spätere Frau. Hier wurde seine Tochter geboren. In Wien arbeitete er bis 1933, als er sich aus politischen Gründen zur Emigration gezwungen sah, als Redakteur des „Österreichischen Volkswirts“, der damals wichtigsten mitteleuropäischen Wirtschafts- und Finanzwochenzeitung. Gleichzeitig beteiligte er sich an der Debatte über die sozialistische Rechnungslegung, die von Ludwig von Mises, dem in den 1920er Jahren führenden Vertreter der Schule der Österreichischen Schule der Volkswirtschaftslehre, initiiert worden war, wie auch an den Strategiediskussionen, die am Rande des Austromarxismus geführt wurden. In Wien verbrachte Polanyi die prägenden Jahre seines Lebens. Der Vortrag zeichnet in wenigen Strichen nach, wie sich Polanyis Erfahrungen im Roten Wien in seinen späteren Werken, die ihn zu einem der bedeutendsten Sozialwissenschaftler des 20. Jahrhunderts werden ließen, niederschlugen.

Maria Markantonatou “Understanding the Covid pandemic – Inspired by Karl Polanyi”
To cope with the effects of the lockdowns and to try to return to “normality”, governments around the world, and even self-portrayed neoliberal ones, resorted to massive spending and the breaking of pre-pandemic fiscal orthodoxies. Thus, a current understanding of the pandemic management is that “The state is back. Long live globalization”, that states have “a choice between authoritarian nationalism and an open global order” and that “the return of government” ends an era “in which power and responsibility migrated from states to markets”. Is this the case? Does the rise of authoritarian nationalism conflict with the neoliberal globalization of the past decades? Karl Polanyi stressed that the self-regulating market system was not established spontaneously, and the state intervened to assist the maintenance of the market and correct the effects of crises borne by capitalist dynamics. What does this tell us about today’s state interventions implemented to correct the pandemic crisis effects? Do they restore or challenge the pre-pandemic economic governance?

Brigitte Aulenbacher “Von der entfesselten Wirtschaft zur solidarischen Gesellschaft: Das Ausstellungskonzept”
Wie ein roter Faden zieht sich die hochaktuelle Frage, wie die Menschheit die industrielle Zivilisation überleben kann, durch Karl Polanyis Wirtschafts-, Sozial- und Kulturgeschichte des Kapitalismus hindurch, in der er das Verhältnis von Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft und die Herausbidlung der “Marktgesellschaft” wie des “Maschinenzeitalters” thematisiert. Als scharfsichtiger Kritiker des Wirtschaftsliberalismus zeigt er, wie die ökologischen und sozialen Lebensgrundlagen zerstört werden, wenn Märkte der Gesellschaft den Takt vorgeben und Natur, Arbeit und Geld wie Waren gehandelt werden, und wie die Gesellschaft sich zu schützen sucht. Der Vortrag arbeitet heraus, wie seine Denkfiguren dazu beitragen können, die Transformation des Gegenwartskapitalismus zu verstehen, und seine demokratisch-ökosozialistische Vision einer freien und gerechten Gesellschaft die Suche nach Wegen in eine post-kapitalistische Zukunft anregen kann.

Die Vorträge der Aussellungs-Eröffnung jetzt zum "Nachsehen" auf unserem YouTube-Kanal

So viele spannende Vorträge, so oft gleichzeitig, Lebensbedingungen, die nicht mit Abendveranstaltungen oder den Veranstaltungsorten zusammengehen - wir fördern Bildung in Eigenregie - wann Sie wollen und wo Sie wollen - Wir wollen zur proaktiven Lebensführung beitragen und die Möglichkeit geben, dass unsere Inhalte auch abseits der physischen Veranstaltungen zugänglich sind.

More ‘News’: 

We invite you to dive deeper with us into the topic of “provisioning” with the fields of care & housing
We are delighted to invite you to our New Webinar Series on “Shaping Provisioning Systems for Social-Ecological Transformation”
Einstieg in das Leben und Werk Karl Polanyi’s – die Vorträge als Videos
Einladung zu unserer Ausstellungs-Finissage
Join us for the public lecture by our third Vienna Karl Polanyi Visiting Professor Ayşe Buğra on May 17th @7pm
In Vienna for the first time! From May 4th to June 21st at the Wirtschaftsmuseum Wien!
Andreas Novy in INTERNATIONAL – der Zeitschrift für Internationale Politik zu Freiheitsverständnissen in der Pandemiepolitik.
Interview with IKPS Vice-President Dr. Brigitte Aulenbacher on the topic of “The Great Transformation” for CAOÖ Podcast. 20th of September.
Zhang Runkun on the Importance of Polanyi’s work in China. 31st of May.

Finissage im Wirtschaftsmuseum



Nach einer erfolgreichen ersten Schau der IKPS Ausstellung “Karl Polanyi – Von der entfesselten Wirtschaft zur solidarischen Gesellschaft”, freuen wir uns auf die Finissage und gleichzeitige Sommerparty  im Wirtschaftsmuseum Wien.

10th June, 2022

Einladung zur Finissage
Im Rahmen einer kleinen aber feinen Abschlussveranstaltung laden wir unsere Mitglieder und Interessierte am Dienstag, den 21. Juni 2022 um 18:30 zum gemeinsamen Closing der Ausstellung im Wirtschaftsmuseum Wien in der Vogelsanggasse 36, 1050 Wien.

Eröffnung & Moderation: Brigitte Aulenbacher (JKU/IKPS)


Brigitte Aulenbacher (Johannes Kepler Universität Linz, IKPS)
Von der entfesselten Wirtschaft zur solidarischen Gesellschaft: Das Ausstellungskonzept

Wie ein roter Faden zieht sich die hochaktuelle Frage, wie die Menschheit die industrielle Zivilisation überleben kann, durch Karl Polanyis Wirtschafts-, Sozial- und Kulturgeschichte des Kapitalismus hindurch, in der er das Verhältnis von Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft und die Herausbidlung der “Marktgesellschaft” wie des “Maschinenzeitalters” thematisiert. Als scharfsichtiger Kritiker des Wirtschaftsliberalismus zeigt er, wie die ökologischen und sozialen Lebensgrundlagen zerstört werden, wenn Märkte der Gesellschaft den Takt vorgeben und Natur, Arbeit und Geld wie Waren gehandelt werden, und wie die Gesellschaft sich zu schützen sucht. Der Vortrag arbeitet heraus, wie seine Denkfiguren dazu beitragen können, die Transformation des Gegenwartskapitalismus zu verstehen, und seine demokratisch-ökosozialistische Vision einer freien und gerechten Gesellschaft die Suche nach Wegen in eine post-kapitalistische Zukunft anregen kann.

Walter Ötsch (Cusanus Hochschule für Gesellschaftsgestaltung)
Karl Polanyi und Friedrich Hayek: zwei Ökonomen im Wien der 1920er Jahre.
Karl Polanyi und Friedrich Hayek gelten als Ökonomen mit einander ausschließenden Theorien. Dennoch teilen sie einen Grundbegriff, nämlich von „dem Markt“ in der Einzahl – dieser Begriff kann als Schlüsselbegriff des Neoliberalismus angesehen werden. Polanyi und Hayek beschreiben den Markt als relativ homogene Einheit und verstehen ihn als Ergebnis einer langen kulturellen Evolution, die durch den Staat konstruiert und mitbeeinflusst wird. Entscheidend sind aber die Unterschiede: nämlich die Vorstellungen, wie der Markt sich gebildet hat, um welche Zeiträume es dabei geht, welche Waren er umfasst, in welcher Tiefe und Weite er gesetzt wird und welche Tendenzen sich aus ihm ergeben.

Corinna Dengler (Wirtschaftsuniversität Wien)
Feminist Futures: Mit Karl Polanyi über Care in einer Postwachstumsgesellschaft nachdenken
Dieses Jahr ist feiert der Club of Rome-Bericht „Grenzen des Wachstums“ mit seiner Kernaussage, dass unendliches Wirtschaftswachstum auf einem endlichen Planeten unmöglich sei, sein fünfzigjähriges Jubiläum. Ein halbes Jahrhundert und etliche Debatten, die versuchten Wirtschaftswachstum und Nachhaltigkeit in Einklang zu bringen (z.B. nachhaltige Entwicklung, Grünes Wachstum), später, zeigt sich im letzten IPCC-Bericht deutlich, dass das „Gleiche in Grün“ schlicht nicht genug ist, um ökologische Krisen und allem voran die Klimakrise zu lösen. Vor diesem Hintergrund schließt der Postwachstumsdiskurs an die ökologische Wachstumskritik der 1970er Jahre an und sucht nachdem guten Leben für Alle innerhalb planetarer Grenzen. Wenn wir über die Konturen von Postwachstumsgesellschaften nachdenken, dürfen feministische Perspektiven nicht fehlen, denn einen Automatismus, der eine Postwachstumsgesellschaft auch gleichzeitig geschlechtergerecht macht, gibt es nicht. Dieser Beitrag stellt Debatten um Care-Arbeit (dt. Sorgearbeit, seltener: Reproduktionsarbeit) ins Zentrum und fragt: Was lässt sich von Karl Polanyi für die Transformation hin zu einer emanzipatorischen, feministischen Postwachstumsgesellschaft lernen?

Hendrik Theine (Wirtschaftsuniversität Wien, BEIGEWUM – Beirat für gesellschafts-, wirtschafts- und umweltpolitische Alternativen)
Die „Wiederentdeckung“ Karl Polanyis hat zu wichtigen Debatten und Erkenntnissen in den Sozialwissenschaften rund die sozial-ökologische Transformation und die Rolle von Doppel- und Gegenbewegungen geführt. Das Buch „Klimasoziale Politik“ (herausgegeben von Attac, der Armutskonferenz und dem BEIGEWUM) schließt an eine von Polanyis zentralen Thesen an, nämlich dass der reine Fokus auf Marktprozesse die existierende soziale Krise weiter anheizen wird und damit die Erreichung der Klimaziele nicht möglich wird. Demgegenüber schlägt Klimasoziale Politik ein neues Narrativ vor, nämlich dass sozialer Fortschritt bei gleichzeitiger Reduktion von CO2-Emissionen zu erreichen ist. Klimasoziale Politik hat damit den Anspruch, eine grundlegende Verbesserung unseres Lebens sowohl auf sozialer als auch klimapolitischer Ebene zu ermöglichen. Sie diskutiert konkrete Maßnahmen, um eine sozial gerechte und ökologisch nachhaltige Gesellschaft zu gestalten. Die Bereiche umfassen nicht nur menschliche Grundbedürfnisse wie Gesundheit, Wohnen oder Ernährung. Auch Geschlechtergerechtigkeit, Inklusion, Pflege, Überreichtum und ein zukunftsgerichtetes Staatsbudget sind zentrale Themen des Buches.

More ‘News’: 

We invite you to dive deeper with us into the topic of “provisioning” with the fields of care & housing
We are delighted to invite you to our New Webinar Series on “Shaping Provisioning Systems for Social-Ecological Transformation”
Einstieg in das Leben und Werk Karl Polanyi’s – die Vorträge als Videos
Einladung zu unserer Ausstellungs-Finissage
Join us for the public lecture by our third Vienna Karl Polanyi Visiting Professor Ayşe Buğra on May 17th @7pm
In Vienna for the first time! From May 4th to June 21st at the Wirtschaftsmuseum Wien!
Andreas Novy in INTERNATIONAL – der Zeitschrift für Internationale Politik zu Freiheitsverständnissen in der Pandemiepolitik.
Interview with IKPS Vice-President Dr. Brigitte Aulenbacher on the topic of “The Great Transformation” for CAOÖ Podcast. 20th of September.
Zhang Runkun on the Importance of Polanyi’s work in China. 31st of May.

Public Lecture by 3rd visiting professor Ayşe Buğra

Visiting Professorship - Ayşe Buğra

Universalism, cultural difference and the “revenge of politics”: Revisiting Karl Polanyi in the contemporary global political environment

May 17th, 2022

There is an apparent contradiction between the denial and affirmation of diversity in neoliberal global capitalism. On the one hand, it was assumed that “There is no alternative” to market-dominated, open economies, leaving little room for diversity in economic institutions and policies. On the other hand, the “cultural turn” predicted geopolitical conflicts due to a “clash of civilizations” or promoted “alternative modernities” in which social and political relations and institutions are shaped differently from those in Western democracies. 

The lecture problematizes this “culture talk” that impedes a proper diagnosis of the current threats to democracy and the rule of law in both Western and non-Western countries.

By drawing on Polanyi’s idea of the “countermovement” against the disruptions caused by a market-dominated economic order, illiberal political parties and movements that challenge liberal democracy are part of a reactionary countermovement. Claims to exclusive representation of the “real people” against “internal and external enemies” of the nation are sustained by idealizing the will to protect society’s historically given cultural identity. Contrary to such culturalization and in line with Polanyi’s reflections on “the reality of society” and “freedom in a complex society”, it has to be stressed that the ideals of equality and freedom are not limited to Western societies. Empowered by information and communication technologies, all over the world dissidents who embrace the ideals of equality and freedom will continue to exist in increasing numbers. Ignoring their voices by references to civilizational difference is neither compatible with global justice nor with peaceful international co-existence.

Does Peace have a chance?

DOES peace have a chance?

25th of April, 2022

Michele Cangiani

International politics, and therefore the problem of peace, are an important and constant subject of Karl Polanyi’s reflection. In his article “Die neue Internationale”[i] he maintains that socialist parties from different countries should not only establish fruitful relationships with each other, but also fully assume the supranational role of promoting peace. This role belongs to the socialist movement, and to it alone. Indeed, in Polanyi’s opinion, only the development of democracy within each country – hence the attainment of socialism – is able to ensure peace, by overcoming the limits of the capitalist form of imperialism, affecting, for instance, the League of Nations’ peace policy, in which financial interests, primarily American, have the last word.

“The story of the Disarmament Conference bore out the truth of the socialist contention that capitalist states are unable to organise peace,” Polanyi recalls in 1937.[ii] The attempt to stop the armament race, he writes, “was bound to fail,” because “the economic organization of the separate countries” made “an international organisation of economic life on a big scale impossible” (ibid.). His critique of naive pacifism, as well as that of the Christian communitarian ideal, is grounded on his conception of “the reality of society,” already emerging in articles and manuscripts of the 1930s[iii]. No problem can be faced, no solution can be found – then, no social science is sound – if the specific organisation of society is not primarily taken into account. That organisation determines causes and modalities of wars, which, in general, respond to the need to define territorial borders and/or to dispose of resources located outside them – when a given societal setup does not dispose of an alternative option.

Beyond this criticism, Polanyi recognises pacifism’s merit of affirming the abolition of war as an emerging need of our age. This would be possible, he adds, in a “human” society, of conscious and responsible individuals, not subjected to the extraneous power of the market, of profit, of class division. Realistically, however, he formulated his ideal through the analysis of alternative developments. For instance: socialist freedom or an “aristocratic” society “more intimately adjusted to the economic system”[iv]. “Co-existence” plus “regional planning” or “universal capitalism”[v] Unfortunately, the worst combination of internal and international alternatives has taken hold: the neoliberal globalisation, both in the West and in the post-Soviet East. Then, as Polanyi feared[vi], “the war-waging slave empire will triumph and ensure peace and division of labour within its confines of death.”

Now, to conclude by drawing a minimal consideration on the current situation from Polanyi’s thought: Nobody could deny the evidence of Russian invasion of Ukraine. However, in stark contrast to Polanyi’s attitude, most opinion makers – in politics, in the mass media, in academia – isolate the war from historical past and present geopolitical conjuncture. Basically, indeed, the institutional setup of our society is repressed. Any reflection is thereby prevented on complex motives of the war, on how it could have been avoided and could be stopped. Public opinion is correspondingly constrained: also in the ‘free world,’ this is a worrying symptom of citizens becoming the target of propaganda, instead of political protagonists – as Polanyi wished, also for giving peace a chance.


[i] Der Österreichische Volkswirt, 1925. Now in K. Polanyi, Chronik der großen Transformation, Band 1, ed. by M. Cangiani and C. Thomasberger, Marburg: Metropolis-Verlag, 2002.
[ii] Europe To-Day, London, W.E.T.U.C., p. 38.
[iii] See e.g. “The Roots of Pacifism”, in K. Polanyi, For a New West, ed. by G. Resta and M. Catanzariti, Cambridge: Polity Press, 2014.
[iv] “Our Obsolete Market Mentality,” 1947, now in K. Polanyi, Economy and Society, ed. by M. Cangiani and C. Thomasberger, Cambridge: Polity Press, 2018, p. 210.
[v] See Kari Polanyi-Levitt, “Karl Polanyi and Co-Existence,” in The Life and Work of Karl Polanyi, ed. by K. Polanyi-Levitt, Montréal: Black Rose Books, 1990, pp. 253-263. And “Universal Capitalism or Regional Planning?,” 1945, now in Economy and Society, op. cit.
[vi] “Common Man’s Master Plan,” in Economy and Society, op. cit., p. 180.

Michele Cangiani

Michele Cangiani is Professor of Economic Sociology at the Department of Philosophy and Cultural Heritage at the Università Ca’ Foscari Venezia, Italy

Read the other essays on the War in Ukraine here: 

Michele Cangiani, Italy
Maja Savevska, Kazakhstan
Maria Markantonatou, Greece
Florin Poenaru, Romania
Michael Brie, Germany
Mariavittoria Catanzariti, Italy