Commodity Studies with Polanyi: Disembedding and re-embedding labour and land in contemporary capitalism

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This article aims to inform current debates in the field of transnational commodity studies through a Polanyian lens. Polanyi reminds us of the need to pay attention to the “double movements” in which fictitious commodities are disembedded from and re-embedded in society. We focus on two fictitious commodities, labour and land, which are conventionally treated as mere inputs for the production of genuine commodities. Through investigating the disembedding and re-embedding of labour in the garment industry, and of land in the agro-food sector since the 1970s, we gain insights regarding the commodification of fictitious commodities in the context of transnational commodity chains. The developments in both fields imply not just simple double movements, but complex entanglements of disembedding and re-embedding dynamics at the interface of state, business and civil society actors.

Translated title of the contributionWarenstudien mit Polanyi: Entbettung und Wiedereinbettung von Arbeit und Land im aktuellen Kapitalismus
Original languageEnglish
JournalÖsterreichische Zeitschrift für Soziologie
Issue number2
Pages (from-to)209-223
Number of pages15
Publication statusPublished - 03.06.2019
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Driven both by a search for cheap labour power, which was dwindling in the quickly industrializing West, and in search of low wages, Western lead firms began outsourcing almost all of their production to Eastern Europe, North Africa, Asia or Latin America back in the 1970s. This development was supported by state-driven trade liberalization. German firms benefitted from so-called “outward processing trade” regulations as early as 1966, when import taxes were cut for the outsourcing of cutting and sewing tasks to subcontractors in Eastern Europe (Schüßler 2009). This practice was later complemented by the multi-fibre agreement (MFA), one of

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© 2019, The Author(s).