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Sunday, August 06, 2006

Polanyi and (Fantasy) Baseball...

I am always looking for connections and examples for the interesting ideas I come across while studying or preparing to teach. This morning one such very strange connection -- between Karl Polanyi's social theory and fantasy baseball -- came to mind as I listened to a replay of a radio segment on fantasy sports on yesterday's On The Media podcast (for original broadcast and transcript, click here).

OK -- some background. I finally finished listening to the five-part podcast of Markets and Society on the CBC which I wrote of in an earlier blog. The series is absolutely first rate, and the final hour does a superb job of summarizing Polanyi's ideas and their significance. Most important was his argument -- made in The Great Transformation -- that what characterizes modernity is the dis-embedding of the economy from society, and ultimately the subordination of social relationships to the logic of market economics. The theory is more elaborate than that, of course, but the value and power of Polanyi's thought in this regard comes through in observations about the atomism and (in Marxist terms) alienation that results from this. Great stuff, but pretty abstract.

That is where fantasy (previous called rotisserie) baseball comes into play (so to speak). The gist of the conversation Bob Garfield has with Matthew Berry (known as "Mr Roto") in the last half of the segment seems to get Polanyi's point through as clearly as any academic study can. Both the Polanyi series and Garfield's interview with Berry are worth listening to separately, but they are even more enjoyable when you can make weird connections....

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