1st EMES-Polanyi International Seminar

The world between crisis and change
February 15-16, 2012

Hosted by the Conservatoire national des arts et métiers (CNAM), Paris (France)

Karl Polanyi’s Great Transformation referred to the transformative consequences of the collapse of 19th century civilization— the dramatic opening words of the book. A World War; Revolution in Russia and the dissolution of the Hapsburg and Ottoman Empires; the Great Depression; National fascisms in Europe; Soviet Five-Year plans; the New Deal in the United States; and a second World War discredited Laissez-Faire and paved the way for the historic compromise of capital and labor. But decades of unprecedented prosperity and the social contract of the Welfare State in Europe and North America, and socio-economic achievements of Latin America, post-colonial Asia and Africa ran aground in the fractured decade of the 1970s.

The crisis of 2008 is said to have discredited neo-liberalism, but has the generation spent steeped in its values so permeated Western societies that the ideology is sufficiently engrained to impede the defense of the social welfare system or the development of alternative forms of social organization? Is the gilded age of the 1990s and 2000s a Belle Epoque similar to that which preceded the collapse of the 19th century liberal economic order? Are we approaching the brink of world-shaking events of a magnitude equaling or surpassing those of the Interwar period? What are the political consequences of the 2008 Crisis in the United States, does Rightwing populism financed by big business have similarities with the rise of fascism in Europe in the Interwar period? Does European xenophobia regarding immigrants and electoral gains by extreme Rightwing parties indicate a similar trend?

In the crisis of the 1930s, there was no effective international order— each country sought a national solution. The post-war order that established the UN system was framed by the mutually destructive capacity of two superpowers. Since the end of the Cold War, there are no effective international institutions to limit the concentration of capital; or to limit the unilateral use of military power by state and non-state actors. By what means can the nations and the peoples of the world protect their societies from exploitation by global capital and defend their sovereignty over natural resources? Constituting the vast majority of humanity, could this result in a more equitable international order?

At the same time, in Polanyi’s terms, there are “counter-movements” that are challenging the dominant paradigm through practice, re-embedding the economy in society at local, regional and even national levels. Socio-economic initiatives designed and institutionalized by civil society are challenging the prevailing view that economies can only be organized and dominated by market imperatives. Regardless of the nomenclature – social economy, solidarity economy, citizens’ economy to name but a few, these initiatives found in the north and the south have micro, meso and macro implications. Alternative forms of production and consumption, institutional innovation at local and regional levels and recognition by national governments are constituent parts of a new societal framework.

The relevance of Karl Polanyi today is increasingly noted by scholars across disciplines. Among the critical issues raised above that this conference will address, we also invite papers addressing the following themes:

  • The “economistic fallacy” as a political process of constructing an economic reality on the basis of orthodox economic theory;
  • Contemporary social practices – their form and underlying socio-economic logic- that challenge the “economistic fallacy”;
  • Democratic initiatives at local and international levels that contest market driven strategies;
  • Proposals for a reconfiguration of relations between the State and civil society that transforms the role of government from preserving the dominant system in which it is embedded;
  • Analysis of the tensions between capitalism and democracy.

EMES-Polanyi Selected Conference Papers

A total of 10 papers were selected for publication in the course of this first International Seminar. They are listed below and can be downloaded here:

  1. A la croisée des chemins: démocratie entre capitalisme et socialisme (Sylvie Constantinou)
  2. Critical Consumption and Ethical Heritage: The Italian Case (Fabio Mostaccio)
  3. Defensas sociales contra el neoliberalismo: la desmercantilización y la política social en la Argentina de la post-convertibilidad. La urgente actualidad de Karl Polanyi (Nora Britos)
  4. Désencastrement et sociétés. Une interprétation à partir des enseignements de l’Individualisme méthodologique complexe
  5. Marketised social protection and marginalism’s second economistic fallacy
  6. Nationalist Politics and the Double Movement: The Problem of Legitimacy in Neoliberal States (Cory Blad)
  7. Obama, ‘Change’ and the Disembedding of Security in Latin America. The Tension Between Polyarchy and Democracy (Alejandra Roncallo)
  8. The Discovery of (a European) Society? – A Polanyian appraisal of European integration after the Maastricht Treaty (Mariana Santos)
  9. The neoliberal transformation and the decay of democracy (Michele Cangiani)
  10. Web reactions against Capitalism. The case of web currencies (Anna Cossetta)


What are you interested in?