International Organization

Research Article

Polanyi in Brussels: Supranational Institutions and the Transnational Embedding of Markets

James A. Caporasoa1 and Sidney Tarrowa2

a1 University of Washington, Seattle. E-mail:

a2 Cornell University, Ithaca, NY. E-mail:


Many have argued that the success of European integration is predicated on reinforcing market structures and some have gone further to state that the creation of a transnational market results in a decoupling of markets from their national political and social frameworks, thus threatening to unravel historical social bargains. Drawing on the work of Karl Polanyi and John Ruggie and using their insights regarding the social embedding of markets, we dissent from this view by examining how the European Court of Justice (ECJ) has handled a key sector of the emerging European market—labor mobility. We argue that rather than disembedding markets, decisions of the ECJ—just as Polanyi and Ruggie would have predicted—activate new social and political arrangements. We find evidence for the development of a new legal and political structure, largely inspired by the Court but also imbricated in European Union legislation, at the regional level.


This paper was presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Political Science Association, Boston, on 30 August 2008. Earlier versions were delivered to the conference on “Reconstituting Democracy in Europe: The Role of Civil Society,” Hanse Wissenschaftskolleg, Delmenhorst, Germany, 17–19 May; the Wissenschaftszentrum, Berlin; the International Political Economy Society, Princeton N.J.; the Central European University Doctoral Seminar in Political Science; the Penn-Temple Seminar on European Studies; and the Institut d'Etudes Politiques, Paris. We thank Karen Alter, Fred Block, Dorothee Bohle, Renaud Dehousse, Bela Greskovits, Peter Hall, Bob Hancké, Ron Herring, Nicholas Jabko, Joseph Jupille, Peter Katzenstein, Hanspeter Kriesi, Ulrike Liebert, Christopher Lord, Ian Lustick, Andrew Moravcsik, Martin Rhodes, John Ruggie, Philippe Schmitter, Richard Swedberg, Cornelia Woll, and two anonymous but extremely thoughtful reviewers for IO for their comments on earlier versions of the article. The authors gratefully acknowledge the research assistance of Mary Anne Madeira and Min-hyung Kim. Our efforts were joined thanks to the intellectual brokerage of Liesbet Hooghe.