Community Development as Double Movement


  • Gussai H. Sheikheldin University of Guelph
  • John F. Devlin University of Guelph



Community development theory, Karl Polanyi, Fictitious commodities, Decommodification


This paper argues that the theoretical contributions of Karl Polanyi can provide a compelling foundation for the analysis of community development (CD) processes and cases. Through a review of the international theoretical and empirical literature in CD the paper demonstrates that CD scholars work with concepts such as social solidarity, agency, self-help and mutual help, social capital, and reciprocity, that can be effectively understood in Polanyian terms. CD scholars explain the emergence of CD as a response to “modernization” where communities seek to mitigate the impacts of modernization while also taking advantage of its promises to improve communities and livelihoods. Also CD normative actions are explained in terms of building – and rebuilding – social capital in response to the erosion of communities caused by modern forces such as the nation-state and industrial capitalism. CD scholars borrow from social analysts such as Jurgen Habermas, Paulo Freire, and Anthony Giddens to structure their explanatory and normative writing. But Polanyi is notably absent as a conceptual source in the CD literature. We argue that Polanyian concepts of the double movement, social disembeddedness, reciprocity institutions, and fictitious commodities can offer conceptual benefits to CD studies. For instance, Polanyi’s faculty for coherently defending the social and cultural spheres by using the language of institutional economics provides new perspectives that can induce new analyses of CD processes.

Author Biographies

Gussai H. Sheikheldin, University of Guelph

PhD Candidate, Rural Studies School of Environmental Design and Rural Development University of Guelph

John F. Devlin, University of Guelph

Associate ProfessorSchool of Environmental Design and Rural DevelopmentUniversity of Guelph