A Handbook of Economic Anthropology
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A Handbook of Economic Anthropology

Edited by James G. Carrier

This unique Handbook contains substantial and invaluable summary discussions of work on economic processes and issues, and on the relationship between economic and non-economic areas of life. Furthermore it describes conceptual orientations that are important among economic anthropologists, and presents summaries of key issues in the anthropological study of economic life in different regions of the world. Its scope and accessibility make it useful both to those who are interested in a particular topic and to those who want to see the breadth and fruitfulness of an anthropological study of economics.
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Chapter 1: Karl Polanyi

Barry L. Isaac


Barry L. Isaac Karl Polanyi (1886–1964) was a Hungarian lawyer turned journalist and economic historian whose reading of anthropology, especially the work of Bronislaw Malinowski and Richard Thurnwald, led him to produce work that made major contributions to economic anthropology, classical Greek studies and post-Soviet eastern European social policy. (This last reflects his lifelong devotion to the question of individual freedom in industrial societies; Polanyi 1936, 1944: 249ff.) In fact, the concepts he developed with the aid of anthropology, and for which he is known in that discipline and in classical studies, were intended as tools for analysing industrial societies and especially for explaining the causes of the Great Depression and the fascism of the 1930s and 1940s (see Goldfrank 1990). His larger aim was to lay the groundwork for a general theory of comparative economics that would accommodate all economies, past and present (see Polanyi 1957; Halperin 1988, 1994a ; Stanfield 1986, 1990). His contributions to classical studies fall outside the scope of this chapter (see Duncan and Tandy 1994). In anthropology, his influence was great during the 1960s and 1970s; subsequently, his work became strongly identified with the ‘substantivist’ side of the strident and irresolvable ‘formalist–substantivist’ debate, and his prominence faded when the formalists largely won the day. Polanyi’s master work was The great transformation (1944), in which he analysed the emergence and (in his view, disastrous) consequences of a new type of economy, market capitalism, first in England during the early nineteenth century and then in...

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