|Born||October 25, 1886|
|Died||April 23, 1964 (aged 77)|
|Spouse(s)||Ilona Duczynska (1923–1978)|
|Field||Economic sociology, economic history, economic anthropology|
|Historical school of economics|
|Influences||Robert Owen, Bronisław Malinowski, G. D. H. Cole, Richard Tawney, Richard Thurnwald, Karl Marx, Aristotle, Karl Bücher, Ferdinand Tönnies, Adam Smith, Alfred Radcliffe-Brown, Werner Sombart, Max Weber, György Lukács, Carl Menger|
|Contributions||Embeddedness, Double Movement, fictitious commodities, economistic fallacy, the formalist–substantivist debate (substantivism)|
|Part of a series on|
|Economic, applied, and development |
|Social and cultural anthropology|
Karl Paul Polanyi (//; Hungarian: Polányi Károly [ˈpolaːɲi ˈkaːroj]; October 25, 1886 – April 23, 1964) was an Austro-Hungarian economic historian, economic anthropologist, economic sociologist, political economist, historical sociologist and social philosopher. He is known for his opposition to traditional economic thought and for his book The Great Transformation, which argued that the emergence of market-based societies in modern Europe was not inevitable but historically contingent. Polanyi is remembered best as the originator of substantivism, a cultural version of economics, which emphasizes the way economies are embedded in society and culture. This opinion is counter to mainstream economics but is popular in anthropology, economic history, economic sociology and political science.
Polanyi's 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. Polanyi's The Great Transformation became a model for historical sociology. His theories eventually became the foundation for the economic democracy movement. His daughter, Canadian economist Kari Polanyi Levitt (born 1923 in Vienna, Austria) was taught by Friedrich Hayek at the London School of Economics and is Emerita Professor of Economics at McGill University, Montreal.
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. He was born in Vienna, at the time the capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. His father, Mihály Pollacsek, was a railway entrepreneur. Mihály never changed the name Pollacsek and is buried in the Jewish cemetery in Budapest. Mihály died in January 1905, which was an emotional shock to Karl, and he commemorated the anniversary of Mihály's death throughout his life. Karl and Michael Polanyi's mother was Cecília Wohl. The name change to Polanyi (not von Polanyi) was made by Karl and his siblings. Polanyi was well educated despite the ups and downs of his father's fortune, and he immersed himself in Budapest's active intellectual and artistic scene.
Polanyi founded the radical and influential Galileo Circle while at the University of Budapest, a club which would have far reaching effects on Hungarian intellectual thought. During this time, he was actively engaged with other notable thinkers, such as György Lukács, Oszkár Jászi, and Karl Mannheim. Polanyi graduated from Budapest University in 1912 with a doctorate in Law. In 1914, he helped found the Hungarian Radical Party and served as its secretary.
Polanyi was a cavalry officer in the Austro-Hungarian Army in World War I, in active service at the Russian Front and hospitalized in Budapest. Polanyi supported the republican government of Mihály Károlyi and its Social Democratic regime. The republic was short-lived, however, and when Béla Kun toppled the Karolyi government to create the Hungarian Soviet Republic Polanyi left for Vienna.
From 1924 to 1933, he was employed as a senior editor of the prestigious Der Österreichische Volkswirt (The Austrian Economist) magazine. It was at this time that he first 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.
He married the communist revolutionary Ilona Duczyńska, of Polish-Hungarian background.
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 office 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 joined the staff of Bennington College in 1940, teaching a series of five timely lectures on the "Present Age of Transformation.". The lectures "The Passing of the 19th Century", "The Trend Towards an Integrated Society", "The Breakdown of the International System", "Is America an Exception" and "Marxism and the Inner History of the Russian Revolution" took place during the early stages of World War II. Polanyi participated in Bennington's Humanism Lecture Series (1941) and Bennington College's Lecture Series (1943) where his topic was "Jean Jacques Rousseau: Or Is a Free Society Possible?"
After the war, Polanyi received a teaching position at Columbia University (1947–1953). However, his wife, Ilona Duczyńska (1897–1978), 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.
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 influenced 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.
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