The contemporary relevance of Karl Polanyi to critical social enterprise scholarship

Michael J. Roy*, Suzanne Grant

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Citations (Scopus)
171 Downloads (Pure)


The importance of the work of Karl Polanyi to social enterprise scholarship is often maintained. However, explanations as to how and why his ideas are so relevant to the field are still relatively scarce. In this essay, we argue that engaging with Polanyi’s work directly, and Polanyian scholarship more widely, can provide a deep understanding of the underlying assumptions within current social enterprise conceptualizations, and provide insights into how the relative positioning of market and society may be manipulated to maintain hegemonic positions. Three of Polanyi’s key concepts are considered and discussed in turn: the ‘substantive economy’, the notion of ‘embeddedness’, and his ‘double movement’ thesis. The contemporary relevance of each concept, and the implications for future research, are presented and discussed, with a view to providing a platform from which to pursue a reinvigorated, emancipatory critical research agenda.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)177-193
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Social Entrepreneurship
Issue number2
Early online date7 Jun 2019
Publication statusPublished - 2020


  • social enterprise
  • Polyani
  • critical research


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