This course will introduce students to Society, Culture & Thought by engaging with the work of one of Bennington College’s most remarkable former professors, Karl Polanyi. Seventy-five years ago, fleeing the rise of Naziism in Europe, Polanyi arrived at Bennington, and gave a series of public lectures that offered a bold new interpretation of what had gone wrong as the world fell into unprecedented turmoil. Soon, he was hard at work transforming these early thoughts into what became his magnum opus, The Great Transformation: The Political and Economic Origins of Our Time. As the war and the manuscript both neared completion in 1944, Polanyi left the final revisions in the hands of colleagues at Bennington as he rushed back to Europe to put his stunning synthesis to work rebuilding the world.
This class will be structured into two parts. Over the first half of the term, we will read and dissect The Great Transformation through a range of disciplinary lenses, including political economy, anthropology, and politics. This half of the course will culminate with students attending The Great Transformation at 75, a convening of renowned public intellectuals, writers, and activists that aims to consider the relevance of The Great Transformation to our current political moment. The second half of the term will focus on using concepts and tools from the social sciences and humanities to consider the applicability of Polanyi’s ideas to today’s most pressing issues: globalization and market fundamentalism; the rise of hypernationalism and xenophobia; climate change and the commodification of nature; and the potential for reinvigorating democracy.