Karl Polanyi and the Paradoxes of the Double Movement

by Fred Block*

John Vail has written a remarkable book about Karl Polanyi’s concept of the double movement.  It is a careful exegesis of Polanyi’s argument that also puts that analysis into dialogue with subsequent scholarship in history, politics, and sociology. Vail is appreciative of Polanyi’s insights, but he is certainly not uncritical. He points out places where the argument is unsupported by evidence or has been undermined by subsequent scholarship.
Karl Polanyi and the Paradoxes of the Double Movement is indispensable precisely because Polanyi’s perspective does not fit into our standard maps of social theory that delineate among Marxist, Weberian, Durkheimian, world-system, or liberal approaches. Vail helps the reader to understand ways of thinking that are distinctly Polanyian. Anyone thinking about using the double movement concept must read this book.
* Fred L. Block is a Research Professor of Sociology at the UC Davis and President of the Center for Engaged Scholarship. His recent books are Democratizing Finance: Restructuring Credit to Transform Society (co-edited with Robert Hockett), Capitalism: The Future of an Illusion, and The Power of Market Fundamentalism: Karl Polanyi’s Critique (co-authored with Margaret Somers)

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