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Polanyi in Brussels: European institutions and the embedding of markets in society


  • James Caporaso
  • Sidney Tarrow


This paper returns to Karl Polanyi and to the logic of his The Great Transformation to understand some otherwise puzzling contradictions in the construction of the European single market. On the one hand, the European project appears to look to the creation of a single market that is detached from national political economies, whether these are liberal or coordinated; on the other, European institutions appear to work towards the embedding of markets in society. Our use of the Polanyian term ‘embed’ may surprise readers who have come to think of the EU as a fundamentally disembedding agency, through the priority it accords to economic efficiency. But although the central rationale for the EU is to foster freedom of movement in goods, services, and productive factors, we see the EU as multivocal, reflecting essentially political logics, and not easily reduced to the institutional expression of market liberalization. We use a series of cases from the European Court of Justice’s treatment of free movement of labour to describe the lineaments of a movement/countermovement interaction at the transnational level not unlike the one that Polanyi discerned in England at the national level in the early 19th century.

Suggested Citation

  • James Caporaso & Sidney Tarrow, 2008. "Polanyi in Brussels: European institutions and the embedding of markets in society," RECON Online Working Papers Series 1, RECON.
  • Handle: RePEc:erp:reconx:p0020

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Giandomenico Majone, 1993. "The European Community Between Social Policy and Social Regulation," Journal of Common Market Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 31(2), pages 153-170, June.
    2. Höpner, Martin & Schäfer, Armin, 2007. "A New Phase of European Integration: Organized Capitalisms in Post-Ricardian Europe," MPIfG Discussion Paper 07/4, Max Planck Institute for the Study of Societies.
    3. repec:cup:apsrev:v:72:y:1978:i:04:p:1243-1261_15 is not listed on IDEAS
    4. James A Caporaso, 1996. "The European Union and Forms of State: Westphalian, Regulatory or Post-Modern?," Journal of Common Market Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 34(1), pages 29-52, March.
    5. Jonathan A. Fox & L. David Brown (ed.), 1998. "The Struggle for Accountability: The World Bank, NGOs, and Grassroots Movements," MIT Press Books, The MIT Press, edition 1, volume 1, number 0262561174, January.
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    Cited by:

    1. Hans-Jörg Trenz, Nadine Bernhard & Erik Jentges, 2009. "Civil society and EU constitution-making: Towards a European social constituency?," RECON Online Working Papers Series 7, RECON.
    2. Fritz W. Scharpf, 2009. "The Asymmetry of European Integration - or why the EU cannot be a Social Market Economy," KFG Working Papers p0006, Free University Berlin.

    More about this item


    European Court of Justice; free movement; institutions; labour contract; political economy; regulations; Single Market;

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