A return to the 1930s?

Nancy Fraser, a well-known feminist and social theorist, will discuss the European financial crisis at her public lecture on Wednesday, 29 May 2013.

University of Helsinki

In the 1944 book The Great Transformation, economic historian Karl Polanyi described the events that led to the Great Depression of the 1930s and the rise of fascism following it. In Polanyi’s view, the spiral of crisis resulted from the attempt to propagate the idea of self-regulating markets throughout society.

This sounds familiar. Are we experiencing another great transformation?

“That is the conclusion that many people have drawn,” says Nancy Fraser. “The book offers a chilling account of a crisis in which the economy begins to wobble, money becomes a commodity, and agricultural free trade disturbs the environmental balance. Meanwhile, deprivation ruptures communities, families and other social bonds.”

“Nature, economy and society are at the heart of the current crisis as well,” Fraser adds.

The bad economy and the good society

Professor Fraser is a visiting fellow at Freie Universität Berlin, where she heads a research project that focuses on the concept of crisis and its dimensions.

“We want to understand how the elements of a crisis – that is, the economy, environment and society – intersect in the here and now,” Fraser explains. “The political dimension is extremely important. If we can’t find a solution to it, how can we possibly solve any other crises?”

Polanyi’s Great Transformation also tells the story of a political crisis that was fuelled by other crises and ultimately led to World War II.

Says Fraser: “The mere idea of something like this being currently underway sends a chill down your spine.”

In Polanyi’s mind, the juxtaposition of society and the economy resembled the battle between good and evil. Fraser, however, disagrees: “Even the powers protecting society may involve hierarchic, chauvinistic and discriminating features.”

Professor Fraser will be visiting the Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies this week. She will give a public lecture entitled Can Societies be Commodities All the Way Down? on Wednesday, 29 May 2013, at 17.15 in Porthania. A recording of the lecture will be available afterwards.

Text: Antti Sadinmaa
Photo: Matthew Sussman
Translation: Language Services/Language Centre (University of Helsinki)
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