Karl Polanyi for the 21st century: Universal Capitalism in Decline?
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For Polanyi, Marxist class analyses focused too narrowly on the relative strength of workers at the point of production rather than analyzing the larger political field in which conflicts around the commodification of land, labor and money occurred. In his view, it was not (only) economic exploitation but the disintegration of the cultural environment of the weaker, marginalized or exploited that causes degradation and a loss of self-respect and standards. Polanyi sought a more holistic account of social conflicts in which the specific historical context helped shape how social groups mobilized ? be they economic, social, cultural or environmental or a combination of these.
After Beverly Silver´s original distinction between "Marx-type? and ?Polanyi-type? struggle, it was particularly Michael Burawoy who conceptualized ?Polanyi-type movements? as countermovements to neoliberal globalization. They are based on the premise that commodification is the ?key experience in our world today?; they are community (not workplace) based and build on needs rather than (class) interest.
Drawing on Polanyi`s framework, I present and evaluate the debate about ?Marx-type? and ?Polanyi-type? struggles in the context of variegated progressive anti-globalization movements. I will identify strengths and weaknesses of this conceptualization. With empirical evidence from Latin America and anti-globalizations in the global North I will ask if the distinction between exploitation and commodification remains valid. I will conclude with some thoughts on the agency of progressive countermovements and call for a realistic assessment, thereby taking into account both the rooms of manoeuvre and their limits.