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15th International Karl Polanyi Conference “The Role of the State in the post-COVID 21st Century”

April 21, 2021, 9:00 AM - April 24, 2021, 4:00 PM

Karl Polanyi picture 1964

The 15th International Karl Polanyi Conference April 21-24, 2021 will exceptionally take place entirely online. As we live through a major global upheaval, we wish to engage in a broad and open discussion on the current consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic and how governments around the world, international organizations and social movements are responding to the crisis and what this may mean for the future.  

The COVID-19 pandemic requires a reset and retooling of the state. It requires greater coherence between all levels of government and a reconfiguration of roles and responsibilities with the active participation of civil society. It requires greater international cooperation and a concerted action to fight rising nationalism.  

Despite the diversity of governments in power, from authoritarian to liberal democracies, the global economic shock triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic has led to active forms of state intervention, both piecemeal and more coordinated. Are we witnessing a “pendulum swing” from minimal state intervention to a publicly led social and economic transformation? As governments in liberal democratic states inject vast sums of money into public health, economic life support and stimulus strategies in response to the pandemic, does this signal the end of decades of savage cuts to public spending? And even if such actions by governments are diverse and fragmented, do they prefigure a deeper transformation toward state re-centralization and a commitment to restore public service provision, or even a different configuration and role of the state altogether? With countries in the global South lacking capacity to invest in health care due to the cost of servicing foreign debt, falling commodity prices and economic chaos, will there be increasing international pressure for debt forgiveness?  

Panels for this four-day conference will reflect on the following key questions: 

• In liberal democracies, will post-COVID state intervention prioritize an equal, fair and just recovery or will today’s active crisis management quickly fade as governments face unimaginable budgetary deficits and public debt?  

• Will this global pandemic result in greater international cooperation between nations? Has any hope that vaccines would be equitably distributed as a global public good with the pooling of patents been dashed as countries and regions engage in vaccine nationalism and competition?  

• Can we envisage a global Green New Deal in response to the warnings of the UN IPCC that the world has ten years to avoid the irreversible impact of climate change? Or will governments return to national agendas as countries struggle to rebuild their economies?  

• Within countries, will the increasing role of regional and local governments be considerably diminished by the re-centralization of power taking place in many nations managing the pandemic crisis? Cities and local governments were given greater responsibilities pre-COVID and have demonstrated their capacity to act as catalysts for a just transition. Will the growth of the city as commons movement internationally be threatened by re-centralization of decision-making and a reduced role for civil society and local governments?  

• What role will counter-movements play, social movements and communities of mutual support for the common good in co-designing strategies for economic democracy, the decommodification of work and nature? Or will right wing populist movements continue to gain ground as they are in many parts of the world?  

• As events unfold, how will states address the pre-COVID realities of climate crisis, deepening racialized and gendered inequality, food insecurity, a migration and refugee crisis that has laid bare the cruelty of humanity?  

• Pre-COVID, we were concerned with the impact of the digital economy on all aspects of work and life, the growing number of precarious gig workers, zero hour employment with no access to social protection. The exponential increase in online transactions and digital platforms during the pandemic raises the urgency to address these questions. Is basic income the answer? What is the role of the labour movement? Are platform cooperatives a counter-movement to the privatization of the digital economy? What forms of regulation are required? 

• Will the domination of the digital economy and violation of privacy, security and basic labour rights by tech giants be met by coordinated international action?  

Please join us and keynote speakers Sheila R. FosterRobert KuttnerAnn Pettifor and Quinn Slobodian in addressing the role that existing institutions and civil society are playing and how they may transform in a post-COVID world.  The work and influence of Karl Polanyi cut across the many themes to be discussed by over 73 panelists from 22 countries including finacializalization, economic democracy, the rise of neo-fascism, the prospects of post-neoliberal democracy, decommodification of labour, housing and gentrification, automation, block chain technologies, risk governance, social and solidarity economies, the fate of care work, and the global climate emergency in a post-pandemic era.  

Speakers will also reflect of the significance of the life, work and thought of Karl Polanyi and Ilona Duczynska. Polanyi’s greatest influence has been on dismantling disciplinary boundaries to help us understand the reality of contemporary society. The COVID-19 pandemic respects no boundaries, geographic or political, nor those that Polanyi argued were artificial, separating economy and society. We will explore the great transformation currently under way that neither Polanyi nor we could ever have imagined.  

Conference Program


15th International Karl Polanyi Conference “The Role of the State in the post-COVID 21st Century”
Event Starts:   April 21, 2021, 9:00 AM
Event Ends:   April 24, 2021, 4:00 PM
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