1 - Introduction: Learning from Polanyi 1  pp. 1-16

Introduction: Learning from Polanyi 1

By Keith Hart and Chris Hann

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Market and society

Markets are networks constituted by acts of buying and selling, usually through the medium of money. For most of history they were kept marginal to the mainstream institutions on which societies were built. But not long ago, and at first only in some parts of the world, markets came to be accepted as central to society, leading to a vigorous political debate, which is ongoing, about the appropriate relationship between the two. It is widely acknowledged that the publication of Adam Smith's The Wealth of Nations in 1776 provided a charter for “the market” (now often singular) to assume its place as the dominant institution of modern societies. The idea of economy, which started out as a principle of rural household management, now became closely identified with markets, as did the profession of economics which grew up to study them. One man, however, made the modern history of the relationship between market and society his special concern: Karl Polanyi (1886–1964), whose The Great Transformation, published during the Second World War, remains the most powerful indictment of what he considered to be the utopian and ultimately destructive attempt to build society on the basis of self-regulating markets. Our authors therefore consider the relevance of this Central European polymath for their work.