Neoliberal Takeover? How the Social History of Economic Ideas Contributes to Historicising Post-socialist Transformations


Current historiography on the post-socialist transformation of East Central Europe is broadly dominated by antagonistic master narratives such as “return to Europe” or “neoliberal takeover.” In order to overcome these well-entrenched interpretations stemming from intellectual or political history, this contribution proposes another approach to historicising post-socialist transformations: a social history of economic ideas. Focussing on Poland, it makes the case for investigating the interplay between market-oriented ideas adopted by economists and intellectuals on the one hand, and the mundane practical experiences of markets and private economy that spurred their broader social acceptance on the other hand. This perspective helps to understand how neoliberal ideas have been recast and incorporated into the seemingly adverse legacy of the Solidarność movement during the late 1980s. Bringing together both intellectual and social drivers of change, this approach offers insights capable of revising narrowly intellectual or political interpretations of the sweeping transformation taking place before and after 1989.