The Life and Work of Karl Polanyi



Although my principal concern in this book is developing the ideas of Karl Polanyi for their significance to the practice of economics and everyday life in the democratic industrial societies, a book such as this one is by its very nature to some extent an exercise in the history of ideas. Therefore, in this initial chapter I treat Polanyi from that perspective, i.e. I attempt to convey an impression of the man, his times, and his place in the evolution of social and economic thought. I first briefly review his life and attempt to convey something of his nature. Secondly, and thirdly, I summarize his intellectual antecedents or influences and the influence he has to date exercised on other scholars. The discussion of his influence is particularly synoptic and intentionally suggestive with no pretense of being definitive. There are several reasons for this. His principal influence thus far is in anthropology, not in my chosen field of economics. His influence is only now developing outside anthropology and therefore difficult and fruitless to assess in detail. Finally, exhaustive treatment of the matter of Polanyi’s present influence would carry me too far afield from my main purpose in the book: interpreting the thrust of his work and arguing that it should be much more influential in the practice of economics and everyday life.


Austrian Economist Interwar Period Great Transformation Economic Surplus Religious Ethic 
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1 The Life and Work of Karl Polanyi

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© J. R. Stanfield 1986

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