Entrepreneurship, knowledge and employment

Knowledge as a Commons: Insights from Karl Polanyi’s Work

Gürpinar Erkan, Social Sciences University of Ankara
Özveren Eyüp, Middle East Technical University

Polanyi approached the issue of knowledge and science in two instances in his The Great Transformation (1944). The first concerned the differential contributions and the concomitant hierarchy of ‘sciences’ during the Industrial Revolution. The second was his characterization of ‘political economy’ as a British ‘specificity,’ resulting from the historical origins of market economy as ‘capitalism without a labor market’. The first section of the paper will cover this theme. The second section of the paper will investigate how Polanyi’s work offers us analytical tools for approaching the question of knowledge and science in our times. One concept, ‘fictitious commodity,’ and one discussion, the enclosures, are of relevance here. Then, the prospects and limitations of applying the concept of ‘fictitious commodity’ to knowledge will be taken up. In our view, knowledge and science qualify as fictitious commodity in some ways and not so in others. Polanyi’s discussion of the enclosures helps us to understand to what extent knowledge and science qualify as ‘fictitious commodity’. In the third section of the paper we approach knowledge as ‘commons’ and link Polanyi with the literature stemming from Elinor Ostrom. We study two current processes concerning knowledge and science and show how they can be elaborated with above theoretical specifications in mind. First, we will point out that commodification of knowledge, as manifest in concepts such as entrepreneurial university, is related to the production of knowledge by way of specialized institutions in accordance with the definition of ‘fictitious commodity’. We argue that the ‘tragedy of commons’ has to do with the market-oriented transformation of institutions of higher learning and research. Second, we will address the consequences of the deliberate expansion and reinforcement of intellectual property rights that create ‘barriers to entry’ and serve to perpetuate uneven economic development.


Keywords: commons, fictitious commodity, knowledge, science, intellectual property rights

Paper file