As a missionary, I manufacture nothing, sell nothing, purchase next to nothing, and employ no one. My biggest contribution to the global economy is the spending of my monthly income (which fluctuates based on the exchange rate) on commodities such as rent, groceries, and my son’s college tuitions. I’m not an economist, and I don’t aspire to be one. Yet, my life is lived within and in many ways subject to a global economy. Or as Polanyi might say, my life is in “embedded” in the market, “running as an adjunct to the market.”
Neoliberals like to present the market economy as an entity of its own that functions best when free of state-imposed rules and regulations. Polanyi would say that such an idea is highly unrealistic. History would agree (cf 2007 Global Financial Crisis) In other words, “disembedding” the market is impossible. And while there are challenges related to the embedded market, disembedding would be worse. In a summary of the Great Transformation, Pakistani Asad Zaman writes, “Unregulated markets are so deadly to human society and environment that creation of markets automatically sets into play movements to protect society and environment from the harm that they cause.”
Thus, the rise of what Polanyi calls the “double movement: the market expanded continuously, but this movement was met by a countermovement checking the expansion in definite directions.” In other words, the state and the market aren’t exactly opposed to each other; rather, they need each other to survive.
Actually, it’s really quite unhelpful to think about political economy in terms of a dichotomising opposition between the state on the one hand and the market on the other. The notion that these two are involved in some sort of tug of war where one wins and the other loses or one gains at the other’s expense does not makes sense in a Polanyian framework.
To be perfectly honest, the reading from these past few weeks has made me feel like I was drowning in histories, theories, concepts, and big ideas. It’s not that I can’t understand them, it’s that they’re hard to understand and it takes a great deal of effort on my part to give these works the reflection and brain-power they deserve. I’m chomping at the bit to get to Miller’s Consuming Religion and Cavanaugh’s and Being Consumed—books that will take the grandiose theoretical recipes we’ve been reading and bake them up into some edible and digestible morsels. I’m not an academic, I’m an activist (must be my evangelical roots!). And I’m an optimist (must be my conscience—after all, “A healthy conscience [is] one in which fear turn[s] into hope”)
So what I really want to know is this:
In the face of such overwhelming challenges, how do we bring the evangelical heart, the hopeful conscience, our shared imagination, and the social economy into conversation with each other in such a way that informs our behaviour AND (Lord, is it asking too much?) even our doctoral research?
I find help in the writings of Wendell Berry. As a proponent of agrarian societies, Wendell is a master of examining entire systems and the interrelated qualities of life. He observes: “That we prefer to deal piecemeal with the problems of disintegration keeps them ‘newsworthy’ and profitable to the sellers and the cures. To see them as merely the symptoms of a greater problem would require hard thought, a change of heart, and a search for fundamental causes.”
With Berry, I recognize that most of life’s difficult problems don’t have easy answers. We can try to boil them down to this or that, but at the end of the day, there are many working parts. I’ve found challenging and even incriminating aspects of my research problem. I’ve come across sources I’d rather ignore because they complicate the issue. I understand how easy it would be to become a sloppy researcher. How do we resist the temptation to produce work that will get us a degree but make no real, valuable contribution to the Kingdom of God?
I resolve to press on, getting smarter and savvier along the way, integrating Bebbington, Anderson, Erdozain, Polanyi, and who knows who else into my knowledge and understanding so that I do not deal with my ministry problem “piecemeal.” The problem I am seeking to address is multi-faceted, years in the making, and far-reaching. I resolve to give my research problem the “hard thought” it requires, exposing “fundamental causes” and praying for a “change of heart.” I will not shy away from complexity or whine about how hard it is to understand these mentors and teachers, but put on my big girl panties and get to work.
 Karl Polanyi, The Great Transformation: The Political and Economic Origins of Our Time, 2nd Beacon Paperback ed (Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 2001). 59.
 Asad Zaman, “WEA Pedagogy Blog: Perspectives on Economics and Society,” Summary of the Great Transformation by Polanyi (blog), August 28, 2013, https://weapedagogy.wordpress.com/2013/08/28/summary-of-the-great-transformation-by-polanyi/.
 Polanyi, The Great Transformation.136.
 “Karl Polanyi; The Great Transformation and a New Political Economy,” University of Warwick, accessed January 30, 2018, http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/newsandevents/features/polanyi.
 David William Bebbington, Evangelicalism in Modern Britain: A History from the 1730s to the 1980s, Repr (London [u.a.]: Routledge, 1995). 16.
 Dominic Erdozain, The Soul of Doubt: The Religious Roots of Unbelief from Luther to Marx (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016). 15.
 Wendell Berry and Norman Wirzba, The Art of the Commonplace: The Agrarian Essays of Wendell Berry (Washington, D.C: Shoemaker & Hoard, 2002). 60.