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The Great Transformation of Embeddedness: Karl Polanyi and the New Economic Sociology


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  • Beckert, Jens


I argue that in its adaptation from Karl Polanyi's The Great Transformation, the concept of embeddedness has itself undergone a great transformation. In the process, significant meanings of the concept have vanished, while others have been added. First I explore the different meanings the concept of embeddedness has achieved in the new economic sociology. Then I argue that it is not the embeddedness of economic action that should constitute the vantage point of economic sociology, but rather three coordination problems that actors face in economic exchange: the valuation of goods, competition and the problem of cooperation deriving from the social risks of exchange. I show that by proceeding from these coordination problems economic sociology, economic anthropology and economic history can find common research questions which allow them to enter into dialogue with each other more systematically. In the next section I focus on the social-reformist inclinations of Polanyi's use of the notion of embeddedness and thereby highlight a challenge posed in The Great Transformation that was largely not taken up by economic sociologists. Finally, I discuss limitations for developing a macro theory of the economy that result from making embeddedness the core concept of economic sociology. -- Das Discussion Paper beschreibt, wie das von Karl Polanyi in dem Buch The Great Transformation angeführte Konzept der Einbettung in seiner Adaption durch die neue Wirtschaftssoziologie selbst eine ?große Transformation? erfuhr: wichtige Bedeutungen des Konzepts verschwanden, andere kamen hinzu. Zunächst werden die unterschiedlichen Bedeutungen des Konzepts der Einbettung in der neuen Wirtschaftssoziologie untersucht. Weiter wird argumentiert, dass nicht die Einbettung wirtschaftlichen Handelns als solche den Ausgangspunkt der Wirtschaftssoziologie bilden sollte, sondern vielmehr drei Koordinationsprobleme, mit denen Akteure in Tauschhandlungen konfrontiert sind: das Problem des Werts von Gütern, das Problem des Wettbewerbs und das Kooperationsproblem, das aus den sozialen Risiken des Tausches entsteht. Es wird gezeigt, dass die Wirtschaftssoziologie, die Wirtschaftsgeschichte und die Wirtschaftsanthropologie ausgehend von diesen Koordinationsproblemen gemeinsame Forschungsfragen entwickeln können, die einen systematischen Dialog über die Disziplinengrenzen hinaus ermöglichen. In der darauf folgenden Darlegung des sozialreformerischen Anliegens Polanyis in The Great Transformation wird ein Aspekt des Werkes aufgezeigt, der von der neuen Wirtschaftssoziologie nicht aufgenommen wurde. Abschließend werden Begrenzungen der Entwicklungen einer soziologischen Makrotheorie der Ökonomie diskutiert, die sich aus der Verwendung des Konzepts der Einbettung als Kernbegriff der Wirtschaftssoziologie ergeben.

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by Max Planck Institute for the Study of Societies in its series MPIfG Discussion Paper with number 07/1.

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Date of creation: 2007
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Handle: RePEc:zbw:mpifgd:071

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Cited by:
  1. Streeck, Wolfgang, 2010. "E pluribus unum? Varieties and commonalities of capitalism," MPIfG Discussion Paper 10/12, Max Planck Institute for the Study of Societies.
  2. Cardoso Machado, Nuno Miguel, 2011. "Karl Polanyi and the New Economic Sociology: Notes on the Concept of (Dis)embeddedness," MPRA Paper 48957, University Library of Munich, Germany.
  3. Höpner, Martin & Schäfer, Armin, 2010. "Polanyi in Brussels? Embeddedness and the three dimensions of European economic integration," MPIfG Discussion Paper 10/8, Max Planck Institute for the Study of Societies.


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