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Karl Polanyi (1886-1964)

Karl Polanyi was born in Vienna, Austria and raised in Budapest, Hungary. He received private tutorial instruction in the home, and at the age of 13 entered the “gymnasium” which featured studies in classics. He studied at the Universities of Budapest and Kolozsvár, earning a Doctor of Law (Dr. Jur.) degree in 1909, and was called to the Bar in 1912.

In 1919, after serving as an officer in a cavalry regiment of the Austro-Hungarian army on the Russian front during the First World War, he moved to Austria, where he met his future wife, Ilona Duczynska, and they were married in 1923. Their only child, Kari Polanyi Levitt (Emeritus Professor, Economics, McGill University) was born in 1924.

In Vienna, Polanyi was employed by Der Oesterreichische Volkswirt, a leading economic and financial weekly of Central Europe. He was joint editor and specialized in international affairs. In 1933, due to the rise of fascism in Austria, he emigrated to Britain, where he got involved with the Christian Left Group, and earned his living as a tutor on English social and economic history and international affairs for the Workers Educational Association, the adult education extramural program of the Universities of Oxford and London.

In 1940, Polanyi took up a position as Resident Scholar at Bennington College, Vermont, funded by a three-year Rockefeller grant, where his most important book The Great Transformation was written and published in the United States in 1944.

In 1947, he got his first academic appointment at Columbia University as Visiting Professor of Economics and was engaged in scholarly debates in economic anthropology and economic history.

After retirement from his teaching position at age 67, Polanyi continue an interdisciplinary research project on "Economic Aspects of Institutional Growth," together with academic colleagues and students, which resulted in the publication of Trade and Market in the Early Empires, (1957).

Karl Polanyi spent the last twenty years of his life in Toronto, where he died in 1964.

Polanyi’s life spans two great wars, the great depression, Bretton Woods, the establishment of the welfare state, and the rise of technology. He dedicated his life to the study and analysis of these events. Today he is recognized as one of the most important thinkers in the social sciences and the humanities.

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