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The Occupy Movement: A Polanyian Analysis of Contemporary Dissent

Year: 2012
Working paper number: 317
Author: Owsley, Nicholas
This paper argues that Karl Polanyi's theory of the 'double movement' reasonably explains the development of the Occupy Movement in the context of post-financial crisis America. I argue that the 2008 financial crisis precipitated the collapse of an economy that, in Polanyian terms, was significantly disembedded from social institutions, and that the consequent social dislocation laid the foundations for a Polanyian 'countermovement' by society against market fundamentalism. In explaining the disembedding of the economy prior to the financial crisis, I explore the neoliberal turn of the 1970s – specifically financial deregulation and innovation. Following this, the paper finds that the movement's substantive success in imposing social constraints on markets was limited, but that it successfully created a new socially-oriented political-economic dialogue. Furthermore, the paper investigates the movement in the South African political context and finds that its applicability is limited in different political environments.
Publication file: WP 317.pdf