Resilience and Transformation in Provincial Political Economy: From Market Socialism to Market Populism in Hungary, 1970s–2010s

Chris Hann


The paper draws on the substantivist economic anthropology of Karl Polanyi, in particular his theorization of economy as “instituted process”, to outline the balance of continuity and change found in a Hungarian village and small town where fieldwork has been undertaken since the mid-1970s. Attention is paid both to organizational forms, such as a particularly
flexible form of agricultural cooperative in the socialist era, and to institutions in a more general sense, such as informal modes of remuneration. Whereas organizations can be speedily
liquidated, instituted practices and attitudes are more resistant to change. In Hungary the continuities are more significant than elsewhere due to the market-oriented reforms of the last
postsocialist decades. Stereotypes of “totalitarian” power under socialism and of a pervasive“mafia state” in the 2010s are shown to be equally wide of the mark from the point of view
of provincial citizens. It is argued that, following the disruption of the first two postsocialist decades, the instituted processes of Viktor Orbán’s strident populism are increasingly accepted
as a stable new normality. However obnoxious this new system in the eyes of liberal critics, this amounts to a re-embedding of economy in society, following a phase of disembedding. Markets
– and economy in general – are always a matter of instituted process, but the metaphor of embeddedness gives us a useful additional instrument to analyse the transformation from
market socialism to market populism.

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