Global and Development Perspectives
International Handbooks on Gender series
Edited by Laura Oso and Natalia Ribas Mateos
Chapter 19: What has Polanyi got to do with it? Undocumented migrant domestic workers and the usages of reciprocity
The entire oeuvre of the Hungarian economist Karl Polanyi is widely critical of the so-called ‘economistic fallacy’ (also known as the ‘catallactic fallacy’) according to which human beings are by nature market-oriented(read ‘profit-making oriented’) beings. Polanyi endeavoured to demonstrate that in pre-modern Europe and more generally in most pre-industrial societies, the importance of (market) exchange has been only marginal – a complementary source of income for certain categories of the population (Polanyi, 1944, 1957a and b, 1966, 1977). People’s livelihoods in these societies were guaranteed mostly through reciprocity and redistribution. In contemporary market societies, however, it is the contrary: men and women are expected to be ‘commodified’ – to survive on resources stemming primarily from market exchange. Resources originating from redistribution (the welfare state) and reciprocity (social links and obligations)supplement or temporarily replace market resources when individuals are unable to take part in market exchange (due to pregnancy, old age, disability or unemployment, for example).
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