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Capitalism in Transformation – Book Review

Capitalism in Transformation: Movements and Countermovements in the 21st Century

Hardcover: 316 pages
Publisher: Edward Elgar Publishing
Year: 2019
Language: English

Edited by

Roland Atzmüller and Brigitte Aulenbacher, Johannes Kepler University
Ulrich Brand, University of Vienna
Fabienne Décieux and Karin Fischer, Johannes Kepler University
Birgit Sauer, University of Vienna, Austria

Presenting a profound and far-reaching analysis of economic, ecological, social, cultural and political developments of contemporary capitalism, this book draws on the work of Karl Polanyi, and re-reads it for our times. The renowned authors offer key insights to current changes in the relations between the economy, politics and society, and their ecological and social effects.


R. Atzmüller, B. Aulenbacher, R. Bärnthaler, K. Becker, D. Bohle, U. Brand, M. Brie, A. Buğra, M. Cangiani, F. Décieux, C. Deutschmann, K. Dörre, K. Fischer, C. Görg, B. Greskovits, B. Jessop, E. Langthaler, M. Leiblfinger, M. Markantonatou, A. Novy, A. Palumbo, K. Polanyi-Levitt, V. Satgar, B. Sauer, A. Scott, B. Silver, B. Stadelmann, C. Thomasberger, H.-J. Urban, B. Weicht, M. Williams, M. Wissen

Book Review

Capitalism in Transformation explores the relationship between economy and society in a way that transcends the cramped confines of economistic thinking. Utilising Karl Polanyi’s[1] approach and concepts, the authors analyse the current multiple crises and social movements affecting numerous countries in the early 21st century. Can humans survive industrial capitalism and achieve justice and freedom for everyone in complex society? We are currently experiencing a financial crisis, a crisis of democracy, an ecological crisis, climate disaster, and widening inequality, to name just a few problems. Capitalism in Transformation looks at the question of whether we are witnessing a deep transformation to reorder our society and economy. Are we facing the end of capitalism and an uncertain post-capitalist future? Or will social protection movements reign in marketization? What role will increasing extreme left- and right-wing political movements have in this transformation? These are extremely topical questions for most of the worlds’ population and urgent issues requiring critical consideration.

Other Notable Editorial Reviews

‘The book provides new historical and theoretical reflections on the work of Karl Polanyi and its relevance to today’s movements and countermovements, including new fictitious commodities, such as knowledge and care, the rise of the populist right throughout the world and the transformation of labour markets.’
– Marguerite Mendell, Director, Karl Polanyi Institute of Political Economy, Concordia University, Canada

Purchase online

The eBook version is priced from £22/$31 from Google Play and other eBook vendors, while in print the book can be ordered from the Edward Elgar Publishing website.


Polanyian perspectives on the movements and countermovements of “our time”: an introduction
Roland Atzmüller, Brigitte Aulenbacher, Ulrich Brand, Fabienne Décieux, Karin Fischer, Birgit Sauer

PART I: Historical and theoretical reflections: Karl Polanyi, capitalism and society
1. A life-long search for freedom. From Budapest to America: a journey through Karl Polanyi’s life
Kari Polanyi-Levitt interviewed by Michael Brie and Claus Thomasberger

2. “Plunges into utter destruction” and the limits of historical capitalism
Beverly J. Silver

3. Crises and transformations: suggestions from Karl Polanyi’s works
Michele Cangiani

4. Karl Polanyi as a theorist of disembedded markets
Christoph Deutschmann

5. A Polanyian paradox: money and credit as fictitious commodities, financialization, finance-dominated accumulation, and financial crises
Bob Jessop

PART II: Contemporary developments of society and capitalism in Europe and beyond
6. Polanyian perspectives on capitalisms after socialism
Dorothee Bohle and Béla Greskovits

7. Economy-society tensions in the Eurozone: the “anti-democratic virus” revived
Maria Markantonatou

8. Political Islam as reactionary countermovement
Ayşe Buğra

9. “Freedom’s utter frustration …”
Neoliberal social-policy reforms and the shift to the far-right through Polanyi’s theory of fascism
Roland Atzmüller, Fabienne Décieux

10. Völkisch populism: a Polanyian-type movement?
Karina Becker, Klaus Dörre

11. Cultural war 2.0? The relevance of gender in the radical populist-nationalist right
Birgit Sauer

PART III: “Fictitious commodities” and the challenges of ‘our time’
12. Contested social-ecological transformation: shortcomings of current debates and Polanyian perspectives
Ulrich Brand, Christoph Görg, Markus Wissen

13. Polanyi, nature and the international: the missing dimension of imperial ecocide
Vishwas Satgar, Michelle Williams

14. Soy expansion and countermovements in the Global South: a Polanyian perspective
Karin Fischer, Ernst Langthaler

15. Navigating between improvement and habitation: countermovements in housing and urban infrastructure in Vienna
Andreas Novy, Richard Bärnthaler, Basil Stadelmann

16. The “fictitious commodity” care and the reciprocity of caring: a Polanyian and neo-institutionalist perspective on the brokering of 24-hour care
Brigitte Aulenbacher, Michael Leiblfinger

17. The commodification of informal care: joining and resisting marketization processes
Bernhard Weicht

18. Polanyi’s double movement and the making of the “knowledge economy”
Antonino Palumbo, Alan Scott

19. Polanyi and the digital transformation of labour: on fictitious commodities and real conflicts
Hans-Jürgen Urban


  1. Karl Polanyi 1886 – 1964) was an Austro-Hungarian economic historian, economic anthropologist, economic sociologist, political economist, historical sociologist and social philosopher. He is known for his book, The Great Transformation, concept of a double movement to capture social forces in the aftermath of the economic crisis of the 1930s – on the one side marketization and on the other hand social protection. ^

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