Globalisation, Transnational Intermediaries and the ‘Polanyi Problem'

Friday, June 24, 2016: 2:30 PM-4:00 PM
205 South Hall (South Hall)
Alexander Ebner, Goethe-Universitaet Frankfurt, Frankfurt am Main, Germany
Karl Polanyi has been praised as a most promising theorist of the institutional transformation of the relationship between states and markets in the context of economic globalisation; involving the regulation of transnational markets (Ebner 2011, Hart and Hann 2009). The latter aspect points at the key content of the ‘Polanyi problem’ as an analytical device in international political economy. It defines the basic concern of the Polanyian perspective: how the globalisation of the market system as a disembedding process is to be reconciled with re-embedding moves that aim at social cohesion (Munck 2004, Block 2001).

In facing this challenge of transnational markets, the Polanyian perspective aims at an institutional analysis of the fundamental tensions within market society. Polanyi’s reconsideration of the embeddedness of market operations in non-market institutions provides arguments for perceiving the regulation of transnational markets as a contested process that strives for a socially viable demarcation of the market domain. In line with Polanyi’s reasoning, one may state that an often neglected feature of the social embeddedness of markets is the de-commodification of labour and possibly also other fictitious commodities, namely nature and money. This leads to an assessment of the Polanyian notion of the double movement of market expansion and social protection, which may be discussed in relation with the problem of governing transnational markets. The ensuing exploration of the role of embeddedness and commodification in related policy concerns informs Polanyian assessments of globalisation.

Given the limited steering capacity of nation-states and the unspecified status of global governance, transnational intermediaries may be sorted out as key actors in solving the Polanyi. However, one needs to be clear about their diversity of functions and roles in a continuum of dis-embedding and re-embedding operations. The empirical case of transnational intermediaries in the domain of environmental affairs provides a case in point.