Version classiqueVersion mobile
OpenEdition Books

Penser global

Michel Wieviorka
Laurent Lévi-Strauss
Gwenaëlle Lieppe

Crises et utopies

A triple movement?

Parsing the politics of crisis after Polanyi

Nancy Fraser

Texte intégral

  • 1 An earlier version of this essay was delivered as a ‘Luxemburg Lecture’ in Berlin on 22 November 20 (...)

1In many respects, today’s crisis resembles that of the 1930s, as described by Karl Polanyi in The Great Transformation.1 Now, as then, a relentless push to extend and deregulate markets is everywhere wreaking havoc—destroying the livelihoods of billions of people; fraying families, weakening communities and rupturing solidarities; trashing habitats and despoiling nature across the globe. Now, as then, attempts to commodify nature, labour and money are destabilizing society and economy—witness the destructive effects of unregulated trading in biotechnology and carbon offsets; in child care, schooling, and the care of the old; and, of course, in financial derivatives. Now, as then, the result is a crisis in multiple dimensions—not only economic and financial, but also ecological and social.

  • 2 For this non-standard, ‘structural’ interpretation of Polanyi’s concept of fictitious commodificati (...)

2In these respects, our crisis seems to share a distinctive deep-structural logic with the crisis Polanyi analysed. Both appear to be rooted in a common dynamic, which he called ‘fictitious commodification’. In both eras, ours and his, free-market fundamentalists have sought to commodify all the necessary preconditions of commodity production. Turning labour, nature and money into objects for sale on ‘self-regulating’ markets, they proposed to treat those fundamental bases of production and exchange as if they could be commodities like any other. In fact, however, the project was self-contradictory. Like a tiger that bites it own tail, neoliberalism threatens now, just as its predecessor did then, to erode the very supports on which capitalism depends.2 The outcome in both cases was entirely predictable: wholesale destabilization of the economic system on the one hand, and of nature and society on the other.

  • 3 The number of such interpretations is enormous. Examples include: Michael Burawoy, “A Sociology for (...)

3Given these structural similarities, it is no surprise that many analysts of the present crisis are now returning to Polanyi’s magnum opus, nor that many speak of our time as a ‘second great transformation’, a ‘great transformation redux’.3

4Nevertheless, the present crisis diverges in a crucial respect from that of the 1930s: despite the structural similarities, the political response today is strikingly different. In the first half of the 20th century, social struggles surrounding the crisis formed what Polanyi called a ‘double movement’. As he saw it, political parties and social movements coalesced around one side or the other of a simple fault line. On one side stood political forces and commercial interests who favoured deregulating markets and extending commodification; on the other stood a broad-based, cross-class front, including urban workers and rural landowners, socialists and conservatives, who sought to ‘protect society’ from the ravages of the market. As the crisis sharpened, moreover, the partisans of ‘social protection’ won the day. In contexts as divergent as New Deal America, Stalinist Russia, fascist Europe and later, in postwar Social Democracy, the political classes appeared to converge on at least this one point: left to themselves, ‘self-regulating’ markets in labour, nature and money would destroy society. Political regulation was needed to save it.

  • 4 For a salutary corrective to the ‘pollyannaism’ of many present-day Polanyians, see Michael Burawoy (...)

5Today, however, no such consensus exists. Political elites are explicitly or implicitly neoliberal—at least outside of China and Latin America. Committed first and foremost to protecting investors, virtually all of them—including self-professed social democrats—demand ‘austerity’ and ‘deficit reduction’, despite the threats such policies pose to economy, society and nature. Meanwhile, popular opposition fails to coalesce around a solidaristic alternative, despite intense but ephemeral outbursts, such as Occupy and the indignados, whose protests generally lack programmatic content. Progressive social movements are longer-lived and better institutionalized, to be sure; but they suffer from fragmentation and have not united in a coherent counter-project to neoliberalism. All told, we lack a double movement in Polanyi’s sense.4

6The result, therefore, is a curious disjuncture. While today’s crisis appears to follow a Polanyian structural logic, grounded in the dynamics of fictitious commodification, it does not manifest a Polanyian political logic, figured by the double movement.

7What should we make of this disjuncture? How can we best explain the decidedly non-Polanyian character of the political landscape in the 21st century, and how should we evaluate the present constellation? Why do political elites today fail to champion regulatory projects aimed at saving the capitalist economic system—let alone society and nature—from the ravages of out-of-control markets? And why do social movements not unite around a counter-hegemonic project aimed at defending threatened livelihoods, battered communities, and endangered habitats? Are we dealing here with political mistakes—with failures of leadership, defects of analysis, errors of judgment? Alternatively, does the current constellation of political struggle in some respects represent an advance over Polanyi’s scenario? Does it reflect hard-won insights that point to weaknesses in the idea of the double movement?

8In what follows, I propose to address these questions in two stages. First, I shall assess some widely cited hypotheses as to why the current political landscape deviates from Polanyi’s analysis. I shall then propose an alternative hypothesis, which in my view better illuminates our situation. This hypothesis requires that we revise Polanyi’s idea of a double movement in a way that better clarifies the prospects for emancipatory social transformation in the 21st century.

A failure of leadership?

9Let us begin, then, by asking: why is there no double movement in the 21st century? Why, despite apparently favourable structural conditions, is there no counter­-hegemonic project aimed at protecting society and nature from neoliberalism? Why do the political classes of our time cede the making of public policy to central bankers, and why do their ranks include so few committed Keynesians, let alone socialists, willing to champion solidaristic alternatives? Why is there no broad coalition of new New Dealers; trade unionists, unemployed and precarious workers; feminists, ecologists, and anti-imperialists; social democrats and democratic socialists? Why no Popular Front insisting that the costs of fictitious commodification should be paid, not by ‘society’ as such, nor by nature reduced to a sink, but by those whose relentless drive to accumulate capital precipitated the crisis? Why have the creative protests of indignados and Occupy movements failed to find any coherent, sustained political expression that could mount a credible challenge to those ‘malefactors of wealth’, as Franklin Roosevelt would have called them, and to the governments who do their bidding?

10Several explanations suggest themselves. The simplest attributes the absence of a double movement to failures of political leadership. This hypothesis must have leapt out at anyone who followed the US presidential campaign. To the dismay of many, Barack Obama proved unwilling or unable to articulate an alternative to the unabashed neoliberalism of Romney and Ryan. In the presidential debate of 3 October 2012, for example, the moderator fed the incumbent a softball question: how does your view of the role of government differ from Romney’s? It would take a psychoanalyst to plumb the full depths of the President’s failure to offer a full-throated answer, the hesitancy expressed in his body language and tone of voice, and the embarrassed character of his response:

  • 5 See the Presidential debate, 3 October 2013, on YouTube, from 1:09:25 to 1:10:57, at (...)

Well, I definitely think there are differences. The first role of the federal government is to keep the American people safe. That’s its most basic function, and, as Commander-in-Chief, that is something I’ve worked on and thought about every single day that I’ve been in the Oval Office. But I also believe that government has the capacity—the federal government has the capacity—to help open up opportunity and create ladders of opportunity, and to create frameworks where the American people can succeed. Look, the genius of America is the free enterprise system, and freedom, and the fact that people can go out there and start a business, work on an idea, make their own decisions. But, as Abraham Lincoln understood, there are also some things we do better together. So in the middle of the Civil War Abraham Lincoln said, “Let’s help to finance the Transcontinental Railroad. Let’s start the National Academy of Sciences. Let’s start land-grant colleges. Because we want to give these gateways of opportunity [to] all Americans, because if all Americans are getting opportunity, we’re all going to be better off.” 5

11Contrast this with Franklin Roosevelt boldly mocking his market- fundamentalist opponents as he campaigns for re-election in 1936. Note especially Roosevelt’s delivery—his self-assured sarcasm and evident pleasure in mocking his opponents’ transparent bad faith:

Let me warn you and let me warn the nation, against the smooth evasion that says: “Of course we believe these things—we believe in social security, we believe in work for the unemployed, we believe in saving homes. Cross our hearts and hope to die, we believe in all these things. But we do not like the way the present administration is doing them. Just turn them over to us. We will do all of them, we will do more of them, we will do them better, and most important of all, the doing of them will not cost anybody anything.”6

12By comparing these two speeches back to back, it’s easy to see that the hypothesis of leadership failure has genuine force. A charismatic individual can indeed make a difference in the course of history, and the prospects for a double movement today would certainly improve if FDR, and not Obama, were leading the charge.

13Nevertheless, this idea does not suffice to explain why there is no double movement in the present conjuncture. It would be one thing if we were dealing here with the foibles of a single individual. But Obama’s weakness is hardly unique. It is the broader pattern—the across-the-board collapse of political Keynesianism among the elites—that must be explained. Faced with the failure of an entire ruling stratum to make any serious attempt to stop an onrushing train wreck, we cannot restrict ourselves to hypotheses centred on individual psychology.

Weakening of labour by financialization?

14Let us turn, therefore, to a deeper explanation, which concerns a fundamental change in the character of capitalism since the 1930s. What is at issue here is the shift from a Fordist regime of accumulation resting on industrial production to a post-Fordist one dominated by finance.

  • 7 Beverly J. Silver, Forces of Labor: Workers’ Movements and Globalization Since 1870, Cambridge, Cam (...)

15In the Fordist capitalism of Polanyi’s day, labour occupied a central place, as its exploitation constituted the principal engine of capital accumulation. Industrial workers possessed considerable clout, as concentration facilitated organization, and the threat to withhold labour was a potent weapon. Organized labour constituted the backbone of a broad-based Popular Front, spearheading efforts to regulate capitalism and shield society from the disintegrative effects of laisser-faire.7 Structurally, then, industrial capitalism generated a ready-made constituency and political base for the protective pole of the double movement.

16The situation of present-day capitalism is fundamentally different. In the current conjuncture, capital prefers, when possible, to bypass the risky business of production. Simplifying the circuit of accumulation, investors find profit in the buying and selling of money and of new financial products that commodify risk—thereby avoiding dependence on labour, whose role is in any case further reduced by new technologies. Necessarily, then, labour lacks the leverage it had in the 1930s. Manufacturing decamps to the semi-periphery, union membership plummets, and the strike weapon loses much of its force—at least in the Global North. Equally important, the class division between labour and capital ceases to appear self-evident, becoming obfuscated by the seemingly more salient divide between the thinning ranks of the stably employed, on the one hand, and the swelling precariat on the other. In this situation, organized labour does not speak for society as such. In the eyes of many, rather, it defends the privileges of a minority that enjoys a modicum of social security against the far greater number who do not.

17For structural reasons, then, labour cannot supply the backbone for the protective pole of a double movement in the 21st century. Nor is there any obvious successor in sight: the precariat or ‘multitude’ has the power of numbers on its side, but its situation is not conducive to organization; and much of it possesses nothing that capital needs and that it could withhold. Youth, peasants, consumers, women, the no-longer-so ‘new’ class of symbolic workers, lately appearing in the guise of hackers and cyber-pirates—all have been tried and found wanting in political heft. All told, a capitalism dominated by finance poses formidable structural obstacles to the Polanyian political dynamic. By its nature, it generates no identifiable social force that could spearhead a counter-hegemony, let alone any designated ‘grave-diggers’.

  • 8 For social reproduction as a flashpoint of crisis and focus of struggle, see Nancy Fraser, “Can Soc (...)
  • 9 Nancy Fraser, “From Redistribution to Recognition? Dilemmas of Justice in a ‘Postsocialist’ Age”, N (...)

18This hypothesis of a shift from production to finance offers some insight into the conditions militating against the emergence of a double movement in the present era. Yet it fails to capture the full spectrum of political possibilities. For one thing, this approach neglects to consider labour’s prospects outside the Global North. For another, it does not look beyond the official economic system to the broader terrain of social reproduction, which currently serves as a major site of opposition to neoliberalism—as witness struggles throughout the world over education, health care, housing, water, pollution, food and community life.8 Then, too, the financialization hypothesis focuses one-sidedly on class relations as the sole or principal ground of political struggle, while failing to consider relations of status, which presently serve as major bases of mobilization—as witness the politics of recognition, arguably the dominant grammar of protest today, organizing struggles over gender, sexuality, religion, language, race-­ethnicity and nationality.9 Finally, this hypothesis misses the discursive face of politics—the grammars of claims-making that mediate structure and agency, the social imaginaries through which social conditions are experienced, interpreted and evaluated by social beings.

A crisis of framing?

  • 10 For the destabilization of the national frame, see Nancy Fraser, “Reframing Justice in a Globalizin (...)

19A third hypothesis focuses on another structural shift that has taken place since the 1930s. What has changed, in this case, is the scale on which crisis is experienced—and therefore the frame through which it must be addressed. What is at stake, specifically, is the shift from a 20th-century crisis scenario that was framed in national terms, as requiring action by territorial states, to a 21st-century scenario, which has destabilized the national frame without yet generating a plausible replacement.10

  • 11 Of course, this framing was also a ‘misframing’, as it excluded from the circle of those entitled t (...)

20In Polanyi’s time, it went without saying that the modern territorial state was the principal arena and agent of social protection. The parameters of the double movement’s protective project were therefore clear: in order to manage its national economy, the state needed to mobilize the national purse, which in turn required controlling the national currency. Virtually the first thing Franklin Roosevelt did upon assuming office in 1933 was to take the United States off the gold standard. This was the move that made possible the entire range of policies and programmes, including Social Security, which we associate with the New Deal. After the Second World War, moreover, in the US and elsewhere the national frame continued to specify all the major parameters of social protection: defining the protecting agent as the national state; the object to be managed as the national economy; the means to be employed as national policy—fiscal, monetary and industrial; and the circle of those entitled to protection as the national citizenry. Just as important, the imagined community of the nation supplied the solidary ethos that made protection a viable political project, able to command broad support.11

21Today, however, the national frame no longer goes without saying. Out of the wreckage of the Second World War, the US spearheaded the construction of a global capitalist system based on the Bretton Woods framework, which aimed to combine international free trade with state regulation at the national level. But that compromise formation crumbled within a few decades. By the 1970s, the US was on its way to becoming a rentier nation; scuttling the system of fixed exchange rates, investing its capital abroad, and incurring massive sovereign debt, it ceded control of its currency to financial markets and enfeebled its capacity to manage its economy. Other, weaker states also lost the ability to steer development, if indeed they ever had it. Thanks to long histories of colonial subjection, as well as to the continuation, after independence, of imperialist predation by other means, postcolonial states never enjoyed protective capacities equal to those of the core—a disparity later exacerbated by neoliberal policies of structural adjustment. Meanwhile, the construction of Europe as an economic and monetary union, without corresponding political and fiscal integration, disabled the protective capacities of member-states without creating broader, European­-wide equivalents to take up the slack. The evidence is today all around us: Greece is reduced to a protectorate; Ireland, Spain, and Portugal are ruled from Brussels; and central banks set limits to domestic policy even in Germany and France. The upshot is that the project of social protection can no longer be envisioned in the national frame. With no alternative frame on the horizon to replace it, the project seems to lose its credibility. We therefore lack another crucial presupposition of the double movement.

22The ‘frame’ hypothesis provides a real insight into the difficulty of building a counter-hegemony to neoliberalism in the 21st century. It sheds light on the weakness of national movements for social protection, which exist only in counter-historical, retrograde forms like lepénisme in France or Golden Dawn in Greece. But this hypothesis fails to explain the weakness of broader, transnational alternatives. Why is there no European-wide movement against austerity? If capitalists have organized globally to extend the reach of markets and to liberate them from national controls, why have the partisans of social protection not organized a counter-movement at a comparable scale?

23In short, none of the hypotheses considered here is fully satisfying. Nor would a simple combination of the three suffice: even were we to succeed in articulating psychology, financialization and globalization, we would still have failed to grasp the specifically political dynamics that have derailed Polanyi’s scenario. We would still be left to wonder: Why does ‘society’ not organize politically to protect itself from ‘economy’? Why is there no double movement in the 21st century?

Emancipation: the missing third

24Whenever a question stubbornly resists sustained interrogation, it is worth considering whether it may have been wrongly posed. When we ask why there is no double movement in the 21st century, we repeat a familiar counterfactual gesture—as in, why were there no socialist revolutions in the advanced industrial states of the capitalist core? The problem here is clear: focusing on that which is absent, we ignore that which is present. Suppose, however, that we recast our inquiry in a more open-ended way, by examining the grammar of really existing social struggle in the decades following publication of The Great Transformation?

25To this end, let us consider the vast array of social struggles that do not find any place within the scheme of the double movement. I am thinking of the extraordinary range of emancipatory movements that erupted on the scene in the 1960s and spread rapidly across the world in the years that followed: anti-racism, anti-imperialism, anti-war, the New Left, second-wave feminism, LGBT liberation, multiculturalism, and so on. Often focused more on recognition than redistribution, these movements were highly critical of the forms of social protection that were institutionalized in the welfare and developmental states of the postwar era. Turning a withering eye on the cultural norms encoded in social provision, they unearthed invidious hierarchies and social exclusions. For example, New Leftists exposed the oppressive character of bureaucratically organized social protections, which disempowered their beneficiaries, turning citizens into clients. Anti-imperialist and anti-war activists criticized the national framing of first-world social protections, which were financed off the backs of postcolonial peoples whom they excluded; they thereby disclosed the injustice of ‘misframed’ protections, in which the scale of exposure to danger—often transnational—was not matched by the scale at which protection was organized, typically national. Meanwhile, feminists revealed the oppressive character of protections premised on the ‘family wage’ and on androcentric views of ‘work’ and ‘contribution’, showing that what was protected was less ‘society’ per se than male domination. LGBT activists unmasked the invidious character of public provision premised on restrictive, hetero-normative definitions of family. Disability rights activists exposed the exclusionary character of built environments that encoded ableist views of mobility and ability. Multiculturalists disclosed the oppressive character of social protections premised on majority religious or majority ethnocultural self-understandings, which penalize members of minority groups. And on and on.

26In each case, the movement criticized an aspect of the ‘ethical substance’ (Sittlichkeit) that informed social protection. In the process, they forever stripped the term ‘protection’ of its innocence. Aware that a wage could serve as a resource against domination premised on status, these movements were naturally wary of those who idealized protection and demonized markets. Demanding access, as opposed to protection, their paramount aim was not to defend ‘society’ but to overcome domination.

27Nevertheless, emancipatory movements were not proponents of economic liberalism. Having broken ranks with ‘society’, they did not on that account become partisans of ‘economy’. Aware that marketization often served more to re-function than to eliminate domination, they were instinctively sceptical, too, of those who touted the ‘self-regulating’ market as a panacea. Wary of efforts to totalize marketization, they claimed the freedom of contract not as an end in itself, but rather as a means to emancipation, broadly conceived.

28In general, then, the social movements of the postwar era do not fit either pole of the double movement. Championing neither marketization nor social protection, they espoused a third political project, which I shall call emancipation. Occulted by Polanyi’s figure, this project needs to be given a central place in our efforts to clarify the grammar of social struggle in the 21st century.

  • 12 For a fuller discussion, see Nancy Fraser, “Marketization, Social Protection, Emancipation”, op. ci (...)

29I propose, accordingly, to analyse the present constellation by means of a different figure, which I call the triple movement.12 Like Polanyi’s figure, the triple movement serves as an analytical device for parsing the grammar of social struggle in capitalist society. But unlike the double movement, it delineates a three-sided conflict among proponents of marketization, adherents of social protection, and partisans of emancipation. The aim here is not simply greater inclusiveness, however. It is rather to capture the shifting relations among those three sets of political forces, whose projects intersect and collide. The triple movement foregrounds the fact that each can ally, in principle, with either of the other two poles against the third.

Political ambivalence

  • 13 For the ambivalence of emancipation, see Nancy Fraser, “Marketization, Social Protection, Emancipat (...)

30To speak of a triple movement is to posit that each of its three constituent poles is inherently ambivalent. We can already see, contra Polanyi, that social protection is often ambivalent, affording relief from the disintegrative effects of markets upon communities, while simultaneously entrenching domination within and among them. But the same is true of the other two terms. Marketization may indeed have the negative effects Polanyi stressed. But as Marx appreciated, it can also beget positive effects, to the extent that the protections it disintegrates are oppressive—as, for example, when markets in consumer goods are introduced into bureaucratically administered command economies, or when labour markets are opened to those who have been involuntarily excluded from them. Nor, importantly, is emancipation immune to ambivalence, as it produces not only liberation but also strains in the fabric of existing solidarities. Even as it overcomes domination, emancipation may help dissolve the solidary ethical basis of social protection, thereby clearing a path for marketization.13

31Seen this way, each term has both a telos of its own and a potential for ambivalence that unfolds through its interaction with the other two terms. Contra Polanyi, therefore, the conflict between marketization and social protection cannot be understood in isolation from emancipation. Equally, however, subsequent conflicts between protection and emancipation cannot be understood apart from the mediating force of neoliberalization. A parallel critique can thus be made of emancipatory movements. If Polanyi neglected the impact of struggles for emancipation on conflicts between marketization and social protection, these movements have often neglected the impact of marketizing projects on their struggles with protectionist forces.

32We have seen that emancipatory movements challenged oppressive protections in the postwar era. In each case, the movement disclosed a type of domination and raised a claim for emancipation. In each case, too, however, the movement’s claims were also ambivalent—they could line up in principle either with marketization or with social protection. In the first case, where emancipation aligned with marketization, it would serve to erode not just the oppressive dimension, but the solidary basis of social protection simpliciter. In the second case, where emancipation aligned with social protection, it would not erode but rather transform the ethical substance undergirding protection.

  • 14 For the dangerous liaison of feminism and neoliberalism, see Nancy Fraser, “Feminism, Capitalism, a (...)

33As a matter of fact, all of those movements encompassed both protectionist and marketizing tendencies. In each case, liberal currents gravitated in the direction of marketization, while socialist and social-democratic currents were more likely to align with forces for social protection. Arguably, however, emancipation’s ambivalence has been resolved in recent years in favour of marketization. Insufficiently attuned to the rise of free-market forces, the hegemonic currents of emancipatory struggle have formed a ‘dangerous liaison’ with neoliberalism, supplying a portion of the ‘new spirit’ or charismatic rationale for a new mode of capital accumulation, touted as ‘flexible’, ‘difference-friendly’, ‘encouraging of creativity from below’.14 As a result, the emancipatory critique of oppressive protection has converged with the neoliberal critique of protection per se. In the conflict zone of the triple movement, emancipation has joined forces with marketization to double-team social protection.

34Here, at last, we begin to recognize the actual state of political play in the 21st century. In the present alignment, an emboldened neoliberal party draws strength from the borrowed charisma of emancipatory movements. Stylizing itself as an insurrection, it adopts the accents of emancipation to excoriate social protection as a fetter on freedom. Meanwhile, a deflated protectionist party struggles to rid itself of the taint of domination, exposed by emancipatory movements. Demoralized, on the defensive and lacking conviction, it generates no romance, no counter-hegemonic vision that could galvanize opposition to neoliberalism. Finally, the party of emancipation finds itself on a narrow precipice. Tacking between the other two poles, its dominant currents repeatedly cross the line that separates a valid critique of oppressive protection and legitimate claims for labour market access, on the one hand, from an uncritical embrace of meritocratic individualism and privatized consumerism, on the other.

Rethinking the politics of crisis

35By clarifying this constellation, the triple movement highlights the specifically political challenges facing efforts to build a counter-hegemonic project to neoliberalism. Parsing the field of really existing struggles, it brings into focus the grammars of claims-making and social imaginaries that mediate the responses of political actors to their situation. This political focus does not invalidate, but enriches and complements, the three hypotheses we considered earlier. Above all, it clarifies the processes that demoralized social-democratic elites, endowed neoliberalism with the charisma that enabled its hegemony, and defanged and dispersed the forces of emancipation.

36Equally important, the triple movement suggests a post-Polanyian assessment of the present state of political struggle. For one thing, it implies that we should not mourn the absence of a double movement. However much it complicates the struggle against neoliberalism, the rise of emancipation represents an advance. There is no going back to hierarchical, exclusionary, communitarian understandings of social protection, whose innocence has been forever shattered, and justly so. Henceforth, no protection without emancipation.

37At the same time, the triple movement suggests the need to complicate the project of emancipation. Disclosing the latter’s ambivalence, this analysis implies that emancipation is not the single, all-inclusive name for everything good. Everything depends, rather, on how the impulse to overcome domination is shaped by its historical encounter with other intersecting projects—above all, marketization and social protection. An emancipatory project coloured by naive faith in contract, meritocracy and individual advancement will easily be twisted to other ends—as has been the case in the present era. However, an emancipatory project wedded to the wholesale rejection of markets effectively cedes indispensable liberal ideals to free marketeers, while abandoning the billions across the globe who rightly understand that there is something worse than being exploited—namely, being counted as not worth exploiting. In general, then, no emancipation without some new synthesis of marketization and social protection.

38Finally, the triple movement suggests a political project for those of us who remain committed to emancipation. We might resolve to break off our dangerous liaison with neoliberalism and forge a principled new alliance with social protection. In thereby realigning the poles of the triple movement, we could integrate our longstanding interest in non-domination with the equally valid interest in solidarity and social security. At the same time, we could reclaim the indispensable interest in negative liberty from the neoliberal uses to which it has been bent. Embracing a broader understanding of social justice, such a project would serve at once to honour Polanyi’s insights and remedy his blind spots.


1 An earlier version of this essay was delivered as a ‘Luxemburg Lecture’ in Berlin on 22 November 2012. I gratefully acknowledge support from the Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung (Berlin), the Einstein Stiftung Berlin, the Forschungskolleg Humanwissenschaften (Bad Homburg), and the Centre for Advanced Studies “Justitia Amplificata” (Frankfurt). Thanks as well to Blair Taylor for research assistance.

2 For this non-standard, ‘structural’ interpretation of Polanyi’s concept of fictitious commodification, as opposed to the standard ‘ontological’ interpretation, see Nancy Fraser, “Can Society Be Commodities All the Way Down? Post-Polanyian Reflections on Capitalist Crisis”, Economy and Society, 43(4), 2014.

3 The number of such interpretations is enormous. Examples include: Michael Burawoy, “A Sociology for the Second Great Transformation?”, Annual Review of Sociology, 26, August 2000: 693–695; Michael Brie and Dieter Klein, “The Second Great Transformation: Towards a Solidarity Society”, International Critical Thought, 1(1), March 2011: 18–28; Giovanna Zincone and John Agnew, “The Second Great Transformation: The Politics of Globalisation in the Global North”, Space and Polity, 4(1), 2000: 5–21. Edward Webster and Robert Lambert, “Markets Against Society: Labor’s Predicament in the Second Great Transformation”, in A. Denis and D. Kalekin-Fishman (eds.), The ISA Handbook in Contemporary Sociology: Conflict, Competition, Cooperation, Thousand Oaks (CA), SAGE Publications, 2009; Mitchell Bernard, “Ecology, Political Economy, and the Counter-Movement: Karl Polanyi and the Second Great Transformation”, in S. Gill and J.H. Mittelman (eds.), Innovation and Transformation in International Studies Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1997: 75–89; Ronaldo Munck, “Globalisation and Democracy: a New ‘Great Transformation’”, Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, No. 581, May 2002: 10–21.

4 For a salutary corrective to the ‘pollyannaism’ of many present-day Polanyians, see Michael Burawoy, “From Polanyi to Pollyanna: The False Optimism of Global Labor Studies”, Global Labour Journal, 1(2), 2010: 301–313.

5 See the Presidential debate, 3 October 2013, on YouTube, from 1:09:25 to 1:10:57, at [viewed 2014-12-21].

6 See “FRD: ‘Let me warn you . . .’ (1936)”, on YouTube, at [viewed 2014-12-21].

7 Beverly J. Silver, Forces of Labor: Workers’ Movements and Globalization Since 1870, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2003 ; Göran Therborn, “Class in the 21st Century”, New Left Review, No. 78, November-December 2012: 5–29.

8 For social reproduction as a flashpoint of crisis and focus of struggle, see Nancy Fraser, “Can Society Be Commodities All the Way Down?”, op. cit.

9 Nancy Fraser, “From Redistribution to Recognition? Dilemmas of Justice in a ‘Postsocialist’ Age”, New Left Review, No. 212, July-August 1995: 68–93.

10 For the destabilization of the national frame, see Nancy Fraser, “Reframing Justice in a Globalizing World”, New Left Review, No. 36, November-December 2005: 69–88.

11 Of course, this framing was also a ‘misframing’, as it excluded from the circle of those entitled to protection all those non-nationals in the periphery whom the market exposed to danger and whose labour helped to finance social provision in the countries of the capitalist core. For ‘misframing’, see Nancy Fraser, “Reframing Justice in a Globalizing World”, op. cit., and Id., “Marketization, Social Protection, Emancipation: Toward a Neo-Polanyian Conception of Capitalist Crisis”, in C. Calhoun and G. Derluguian (eds.), Business as Usual: The Roots of the Global Financial Meltdown, New York, NYU Press, 2011: 137–158.

12 For a fuller discussion, see Nancy Fraser, “Marketization, Social Protection, Emancipation”, op. cit.

13 For the ambivalence of emancipation, see Nancy Fraser, “Marketization, Social Protection, Emancipation”, op. cit., and Id., “Feminist Ambivalence and Capitalist Crisis: Between Marketization, Social Protection and Emancipation”, in N. Fraser, Fortunes of Feminism: From State-Managed Capitalism to Neoliberal Crisis, New York, Verso Books, 2013.

14 For the dangerous liaison of feminism and neoliberalism, see Nancy Fraser, “Feminism, Capitalism, and the Cunning of History” and “Feminist Ambivalence and Capitalist Crisis”, both in N. Fraser, Fortunes of Feminism, op. cit.


Nancy Fraser, philosophe et féministe poststructuraliste, est titulaire de la chaire « Henry A. and Louise Loeb » à la New School for Social Research de New York. Elle est actuellement « Einstein Visiting fellow » de la Freie Universität Berlin. Elle est également titulaire de la chaire « Rethinking Social Justice » au Collège d’études mondiales (FMSH) et de la chaire internationale « Blaise-Pascal » de l’EHESS. Ses publications en français incluent notamment : Qu’est-ce que la justice sociale ? Reconnaissance et redistribution (Paris, La Découverte, 2005, 2éd. 2011) ; Le féminisme en mouvements. Des années 1960 au néolibéralisme (Paris, La Découverte, 2012) ; et avec Luc Boltanski, Domination et anticipation. Pour un renouveau de la critique sociale, sous la direction de Philippe Corcuff (Lyon, Presses universitaires de Lyon, 2014). Spécialiste de la théorie critique sociale, de la théorie féministe et de la philosophie politique, Nancy Fraser écrit actuellement un livre intitulé Capitalism, Crisis, Critique: A Critical Theory for the 21st Century.

© Éditions de la Maison des sciences de l’homme, 2014

Conditions d’utilisation :