Erik Olin WrightProfessor Erik Olin Wright
Department of Sociology
University of Wisconsin - Madison
Videos Selected Power Point Presentations Annual Weekend Seminar Retreats
Courses (Fall 2014):
Soc.125. American Society: how it really works. Syllabus Podcasts
Soc.621 & 929. Class, State and Ideology. 2014 Syllabus Course Page
New Project: Pathways to a Cooperative Market Economy
Non-academic Miscellanea: Audio Stories & Lectures, Chess Perversions & Other Diversions, The Chess Game (animated film)
American Sociological Association President page:
ASA Presidential address (click on picture -- then go to minute 54:17):
paper based on Presidential Address: "Transforming Capitalism through Real Utopias"
PODCASTS for: Sociology 125. American Society: how it really works
2. Class, Crisis and the State, London: New Left Books, 1978; Verso paperbacks, 1979. Translations in Spanish, Portuguese, Japanese, Korean.
3. Class Structure and Income Determination, New York: Academic Press, 1979.
4. Classes (London: Verso, 1985). Spanish translation, 1994.
5. The Debate on Classes (London: Verso, 1990)
6. Reconstructing Marxism: essays on Explanation and the Theory of History (with Elliott Sober and Andrew Levine), Verso, 1992 (Portuguese translation, 1993)
7. Interrogating Inequality (London: Verso, 1994) (Spsnish translation, 2010)
8. Class Counts: Comparative Studies in Class Analysis (Cambridge
University Press, 1997)
Class Counts: student edition (Cambridge University Press, 2000)
9. Deepening Democracy: institutional innovations in empowered participatory governance (with Archon Fung), Verso, 2003. (Spanish Translation, National University of Colombia Press, 2003)
10. Envisioning Real Utopias, Verso: 2010
11. American Society: how it really works (with Joel Rogers), New York: W.W. Norton, 2011.
12. Alternatives to Capitalism: proposals for a democratic economy. Robin Hahnel and Erik Olin Wright (New Left Project, 2014)
Debate in this journal over this paper:
Tony Novak, "The Class Analysis
of Poverty -- a Response to Erik Olin Wright"
Erik Olin Wright "Reply to Novak," International Journal of Health Services, Vol.26: No.2, 1996
Robert Chernomas and Ardeshir Sepehri, "The Class Analysis of Poverty: is the underclass living off the
socially available surplus?", International Journal of Health Services (1997)
Erik Olin Wright, "Who Pays for the State?: a reply to Robert Chernomas and Ardeshir Sepehri"
"The Gender Gap in Authority: a comparative analysis of the United States, Canada, The United Kingdom, Sweden, Norway and Japan" (with Janeen Baxter) The American Sociological Review, June, 1995
"The Enduring Importance of Class Analysis," Theory & Society, December, 1996
"Equality, Community, and Efficient Redistribution", Politics & Society, December, 1996
"Marxism After Communism" (a revision of #50 above), in Stephen P. Turner (ed), Social Theory & Sociology (Oxford: Blackwell, 1997)
"Rethinking, Once Again, the Concept of Class Structure," in Reworking Class, edited by John Hall (Cornell University Press, 1997). (Revision of chapter 8 in The Debates on Class)
Reflexiones Sobre Socialismo, Capitalismo y Marxismo (Palma de Mallorca: Collecio Contextos, 1997).
"Reflections on Marxism, Capitalism, and Socialism", Imprints: a journal of analytical socialism, vol 2. No. 2, October, 1997 pp.100-122 (a shortened version of Reflexiones Sobre Socialism....).
“The Glass Ceiling Hypothesis: a comparative study of United States, Sweden and Australia" (with Janeen Baxter), Gender & Society, forthcoming, April 2000
“Workers Power, Capitalist Interests and Class Compromise,” American Journal of Sociology, January, 2000
“Metatheoretical Foundations of Charles Tilly’s, Durable Inequality”, Social Science History, forthcoming 2000
“Real Utopian Proposals for reducing Income and wealth Inequality,” Contemporary Sociology, January 2000
“An Analytical Menu for Studying the Interaction of Class and Gender” in Reconfiguring Class, edited by Janeen Baxter and Mark Western (Stanford University Press, forthcoming, 2000)
“Foundations of Class Analysis” in Reconfiguring Class, edited by Janeen Baxter and Mark Western (Stanford University Press, forthcoming, 2000)
"Class, Exploitation and Economic Rents: reflections on Sørensen’s
“'Toward a Sounder Basis for Class Analysis,'” American
Journal of Sociology, 2000.
"The Shadow of Exploitation in Weber's Class Analysis" American Sociological Review, December 2002
"The patterns of job expansions in the USA: a comparison of the 1960s and 1990s" (with Rchel Dwyer) Socioeconomic Review 2003, 1: 289-325.
“Beneficial Constraints: beneficial for whom?” Socio-economic Review 2004 2:461-467
“Class”, in International Encyclopedia of Economic Sociology, edited by Jens Beckert and Milan Zafirovsky (Routledge, 2006), pp. 62-68
“Basic Income as a Socialist Project”, Rutgers Journal of Law & Urban Policy Vol. 2, Fall 2005, No.1
“Falling into Marxism, Choosing to stay”, The Disobedient Generation: social theorists in the 1960s, edited by Alan Sica and Stephen Turner (University of Chicago Press, 2006)
"The Structuralist Marxist and Parsonsian Theories of the State" (with Luca Perrone), unpublished manuscript, 1973
"A Reading Guide to Poulantzas, Political Power and Social Class", prepared for seminar on Theories of the State, 1977 and 1982
"Beneficial Constraints: beneficial for whom?", July 1998
"The American Jobs Machine: the trajectory of good
and bad jobs in the 1960s and 1990s," (with Rachel Dwyer), September
Text of "The American Jobs Machine"
Figures for "The American Jobs Machine"
Technical Appendix (HTML)
(with Michael Burawoy), March 2000
"Foundations of Class Analysis in the Marxist Tradition", April 2001
"Complex Egalitarianism", (with Harry Brighouse), March 2001
"Stakeholder Grants, Basic Income and Class Analysis", paper for Real Utopias Project Conference, May 2002
"The Patterns of Job Expansions in the United States, a comparison of the 1960s and 1990s" (with Rachel Dwyer) March 2003, forthcoming, Socio-Economic review [published version]
Approaches to Class Analysis (final draft: January 2004).
Cambridge University Press: 2005
Edited by Erik Olin Wright, with contributions by Erik Olin Wright, Richard Breen, David Grusky, Elliott Weininger, Aage Sorensen and Jan Pakulski
Table of Contents
Introduction by Erik Olin Wright
Chapter 1 Foundations of a neo-Marxist Class Analysis by Erik Olin Wright
Chapter 2 Foundations of a neo-Weberian Class Analysis by Richard Breen
Chapter 3 Foundations of a neo-Durkheimian class analysis by David Grusky with collaboration by Gabriela Galescu
Chapter 4 Foundations of Bourdieu’s Class Analysis by Elliott Weininger
Chapter 5 Foundations of a Rent-based class analysis by Aage Sørensen
Chapter 6 Foundations of a Post-Class analysis by Jan Pakulski Romanian translation: http://webhostinggeeks.com/science/wright-found-ro
Conclusion by Erik Olin Wright
Class, contribution to the Encyclopedia of Social Theory edited by George Ritzer (forthcoming), March 2003
"Taking the 'Social' in Socialism Seriously", paper presented at the annual meetings of SASE, July 2004
Redesigning Redistribution: Universal Basic Income, Stakeholder Grants and other proposals (volume V in the Real Utopias Project), by Bruce Ackerman, Anne Alstott and Philippe van Parijs
"Basic Income as a Socialist Project", presentation at he US-BIG Congress, March, 2005
"From Stratification to Class Analysis (and back again?)" paper presented at the American Sociological Association annual meetings, August 2005
"From Grand Paradigm Battles to Pragmatist Realism: Towards an Integrated Class Analysis", paper presented conference on “Comprehending Class,” University of Johannesburg, South Africa, June 2009.
"Three Logics of Job Creation in Capitalist economies", Presentation at the American Sociological Association panel on: “Globalization and Work: challenges and responsibilities”, August 2008
"Class Struggle and Class Compromise in the Era of Stagnation and Crisis," Forthcoming in Transform! (spring, 2013)
Reflections on Marxism, Class and Politics
interview by Chronis Polychroniou, February 2001
Interview by Mark Kirby, April, 2001
The Real Utopias Project, begun in 1991, explores a wide range of proposals and models for radical social change. The basic idea is to combine serious normative discussions of the underlying principles and rationales for different emancipatory visions with the analysis of pragmatic problems of institutional design. The project itself consists of a series of conferences sponsored periodically by the A. E, Havens Center at the University of Wisconsin. Each conference is built around some provocative, innovative manuscript dealing with some salient issue in radical social change. A group of scholars from around the world is then invited to write essays engaging the ideas of this manuscript. These essays are circulated among participants and discussed at the conference. After the conference the papers are revised in light of these discussions and the author(s) of the original manuscript right a concluding essay. The collection of papers is then published in the Real Utopias Project Series by Verso publishers, London.
So far, six books have been published in the series:
Volume 1 Associations and Democracy, by Joshua Cohen and Joel Rogers, with contributions by Paul Q. Hirst, Ellen Immergut, Ira Katznelson, Heinz Klug, Andrew Levine, Jane Mansbridge, Claus Offe,, Philippe Schmitter, Wolfgang Streeck, Andrew Szasz and Iris Young. Edited and introduced by Erik Olin Wright (London: Verso, 1995)
Volume 2 Equal Shares: making market socialism work, by John Roemer, with contributions by Richard J. Arneson, Fred Block, Harry Brighouse, Michael Burawoy, Joshua Cohen, Nancy Folbre , Andrew Levine, Mieke Meurs, Louis Putterman, Joel Rogers, Debra Satz, Julius Sensat, William H. Simon, Frank Thompson, Thomas E. Weisskopf, Erik Olin Wright. Edited and introduced by Erik Olin Wright (London: Verso, 1996)
Volume 3 Recasting Egalitarianism: new rules for equity and accountability in markets, communities and states, by Samuel Bowles and Herbt Gintis, with contributions by Daniel M. Hausman, Erik Olin Wright, Elaine McCrate, Elinor Ostrom, Andrew Levine, Harry Brighouse, David M. Gordon, Paula England, John E. Roemer, Karl Ove Moene, Michael Wallerstein, Peter Skott, Steven N. Durlauf, Ugo Pagano, Michael R. Carter, Karla Hoff . Edited and Introduced by Erik Olin Wright (London: Verso, 1999)
Volume 4 Deepening Democracy: Innovations in empowered participatory governance. by Archon Fung and Erik Olin Wright with contributions by Rebecca Neaera Abers, Gianpaolo Baiocchi, Joshua Cohen, Patrick Heller, Bradley C. Karkkainen, Rebecca S. Krantz, Jane Mansbridge, Joel Rogers, Craig W. Thomas, and T.M. Thomas Isaac (London: Verso, 2003)
Volume 5 Redesigning Distribution: basic income and stakeholder grants as cornerstones of a more egalitarian capitalism, by Bruce Ackerman, Ann Alstott and Philippe van Parijs, with contributions by Barbara Bergmann, Irv Garfinkle, Chien-Chung Huang , Wendy Naidich, Julian LeGrand, Carole Pateman, Guy Standing, Stuart White, and Erik Olin Wright (London: Verso, 2005)
Volume 6 Gender Equality: Transforming Family
Divisions of Labor, By Janet Gornick and Marcia
Meyers, with contributions by Barbara Bergmann,
Johanna Brenner, Harry Brighouse, Scott Coltrane,
Rosemary Crompton, Myra Marx Ferree, Nancy Folbre,
Heidi Hartman, Shireen Hassim, Lane Kenworthy, Vicki
Lovell, Cameron MacDonald, Peter McDonald, Ruth Milkman,
Kimberly Morgan, Ann Orloff, Michael Shalev, Erik Olin
Wright, Kathrin Zippel. Edited with a Preface by,
Erik Olin Wright. (London and New York: Verso, 2009)
For information on these books, consult the Verso Publishers website:
Sociology 125. Contemporary American Society (2006 Syllabus) (2010 Syllabus) (2012 Podcasts and powerpoints)
What kind of country do we live in? What does it even mean to talk about a "kind" of country? We all know what it means to ask of a strange creature, "what kind of animal is this?" But it is less clear how to answer the parallel question about society. This course provides an extended answer to this question. It also explores the implications of the answer for understanding the source, and possible solution, of some of the pressing social problems in the United States facing the U.S. today, as well as the obstacles to those solutions.
Thematically, we will mainly focus on three broad clusters of issues about the United States: (1) in a context of "hyper-capitalism," America's exceptionally heavy reliance on the market as a source of regulating social life; (2) in this "land of opportunity," the endurance (and on some dimensions, growth) of social and economic inequality; (3) in this oldest and most stable of the world's democracies, the current weakness of our democratic institutions, including citizen organization and involvement in governance.
In each of these areas, there are common claims made - that the market is the best way to solve most important problems, that inequality is largely a thing of the past, that our democracy is still the most vital in the world – that we wish to critically examine. And, where we identify problems, we wish to point toward feasible alternatives that could help solve them.
GRADUATE & ADVANCED UNDERGRADUATE
Sociology 621, Class, State and Ideology: an introduction to
Marxist Social Science
( 2003 Syllabus, 2002 abridged version, lecture notes abridged course, readings abridged course, 2003 Lecture Outlines, 2005 Syllabus, 2005 course materials,
2008 Syllabus, 2008 course materials, 2009 Syllabus, 2009 course materials 2011 course materials & podcasts) (2013 Syllabus Course Page)
This course provides a rigorous introduction to the core concepts, ideas and theories in the Marxist tradition of critical social science. It is not primarily a course on Marx per se, or on the historical development of Marxism as an intellectual tradition, but rather on the logic, concepts and theories of that tradition. The emphasis, therefore, will be on contemporary problems and debates rather than on the history of ideas. The course will also not attempt to give equal weight to all varieties of Marxisms, but rather will focus especially on what has come to be known as "Analytical Marxism".
The course will revolve around seven broad topics: Marxism as a social science; The theory of history; class structure; class formation and class struggle; the theory of the state and politics; ideology and consciousness; socialism and emancipation. Within each of these topics we seek to achieve four objectives: (1) define the decisive differences between the treatments of various topics within the Marxist (and other radical) traditions and "conventional" sociology; (2) present a systematic account of the central concepts and propositions within Marxist and other critical approaches to the topic; (3) examine some of the most salient debates within contemporary discussion on each topic, and locate unresolved questions and gaps in the theory; (4) discuss some of the key empirical and historical research problems generated within these debates.
To many people "Marxism" is an antiquated, 19th century doctrine rather than a scientifically-relevant body of social theory. Many students may therefore be skeptical that it is still worthwhile to devote concentrated attention to the Marxist tradition of social theory and social science. There are three reasons why I feel it is indeed worth the time and effort. First, and most importantly from my point of view, I believe that the Marxist theoretical tradition continues to offer indispensable theoretical tools for understanding the conditions for the future advance of a radical egalitarian project of social change. Marx is famous for saying in the Eleventh Thesis on Feurbach that philosophers have only tried to understand the world, but that the real point is to change it. It is equally true, however, that without effectively understanding the world we cannot know how to change it in the ways we desire. Marxism may not provide all of the theoretical tools we need for understanding the world, but it provides some of the fundamental ingredients, and for this reason it is worth studying. Second, I also believe that the Marxist tradition has a great deal offer to sociology in general even if one does not identify strongly with the vision of human emancipation in that tradition. In particular I think that class analysis in the Marxist tradition has considerable explanatory power for a wide range of issues of sociological importance. Third, the Marxist tradition of social thought is interesting and provocative. It contains some of the most elegant and ambitious theoretical constructions in all of social science and raises all sorts of intriguing puzzles and problems. Even if one rejects the substantive theses of the Marxist tradition, it is worth taking the time to understand them deeply as part of the general process developing ones analytical skills in social theory.
Two comments are needed on the scope of this course -- the first on the question of theoretical perspectives and the second on substantive topics.
First, the course will not attempt to give equal weight to all varieties of Marxisms, but rather will focus especially on what has come to be known as “Analytical Marxism”. Over the years that I have taught versions of this course some students complain that it is not really a course on Marxism but on “Wrightism”: some of the readings come from my own published work, and most of the lectures focus on the core ideas of the variety of Marxism within which I do my own work, “Analytical Marxism”. There is thus very little discussion of Hegelian Marxism, of the Frankfurt school, of various forms of culturalist Marxism, of classical Marxism, or of the rich body of Marxist historical writing. Some of the times I have taught the course I tried to incorporate significant material from these other perspectives, but in the end this was never very satisfactory. Including these kinds of alternative perspectives always meant dropping important topics from the course agenda, and in any case, many students wondered why I included these readings when I was so critical of them (especially for their frequent obscurantism). Given the time constraints, I decided in the end that it is better to organize the course around the ideas and approaches I find most powerful and compelling.
Second, because of time constraints we also cannot give adequate attention to every important topic within contemporary Marxism. The course will focus on six main clusters of problems: the theory of history; class structure; class formation and class struggle; the theory of the state and politics; ideology and consciousness; socialism and emancipation. A range of important issues will get at most cursory treatment: the theory of imperialism and capitalism as a world system; accumulation and crisis theory; the theoretical and historical evaluation of socialist revolutions and communist regimes; the analysis of gender relations and male domination; and the problem of racial domination. Perhaps in the contemporary context the most serious of these gaps is the study of race and gender. We will discuss these in the context of the analysis of class structure, and also at least briefly in the discussion of the state and ideology, but we will not have time to explore carefully the wide range of discussions within the Marxist tradition of either of these. When this was a two-semester course, we spent three weeks specifically on feminism and at least two weeks on race. In a single semester, this was impossible. As a result, the course is restricted to the core topics within Marxist class analysis -- class, state and ideology.
While the course is intended for graduate students, motivated undergraduates
are encouraged to enroll. Each undergraduate will be paired with
a graduate student "mentor" for weekly one-on-one discussions of
the readings. The basic requirement of the course is three ten page
papers on the topics in the course.
Sociology 915. Seminar in Sociological Theory: Philosophy of Science (2004 Syllabus) (1998 Syllabus) (2004 course materials) (2012 Syllabus)
This seminar explores a range of central meta-theoretical issues in social sciences, including:
- What is "science"? What is "knowledge"?
- Is there a fundamental difference between social and natural sciences?
- alternative meanings of "explanation"
- anomalies and puzzles
- the problem of causal primacy in multi-causal systems
- methodological individualism
- reasons as explanations
- functional explanation
- the status of "concepts" in social theory
- scientific realism as a stance in social science
- the relationship between mathematical models and explanation in social research.
Each student in the course will be part of a 2-3 person research team whose task will be to prepare a philosophy of science interview of a prominent social scientist (I will recruit a list of subjects) at UW. These interviews will be videotaped and, during the last 3-4 weeks of the class, we will show the video-tapes in class and discuss them.
Sociology 915. Seminar in Sociological Theory: Equality -- Sociological and Philosophical Perspectives (2009 syllabus) (Interrogations)
At the very center of sociology is the study of inequality along a variety of dimensions, but of course, lurking behind the empirical focus on inequality is a normative ideal of “equality.” We care about inequalities in part because we believe that equality is desirable. But why is equality desirable? What do we mean by it? How is equality related to other morally-infused terms like fairness and justice? These are the preoccupations of philosophical discussions. But philosophers are often inattentive to the underlying sociological mechanisms that generate and reproduce different forms of inequality and which bear on the alternative ways one might imagine trying to realize the philosophical ideals in practice. This seminar explores in a variety of ways the intersection of these two contexts for thinking about equality and inequality.
More specifically the readings and discussions will be organized around two axes. The first concerns the problem of what equality and inequality means depending upon what it is that is unequally distributed. Here are some candidates for discussion:
The second concerns the socio-demographic categories of persons with respect to which the above kinds of things might be unequally distributed:
Sociology 924. Theories of the State (1995 syllabus, 2002 syllabus, 2005 syllabus) (discussion outlines 2002) (summer reading for fall 2005 seminar) (Fall 2005 course website) (Fall 2011 course website)
At the core of this seminar is a moral and political concern: to what extent is it possible to achieve a more egalitarian, humane and democratic society within a capitalist society? It is a fundamental tenet of Marxist theories of the state that the state in capitalist society is deeply shaped and constrained by the class relations of capitalism, but this leaves quite open the extent to which progressive change can be achieved within those constraints. At one extreme is classical Leninism, which sees the capitalist state as so profoundly imbued with a capitalist character that even where nominally democratic institutions exist, there is little prospect for progressive change. The state is fundamentally a "superstructure": its form and structures functionally reproduce the basic class relations of capitalism. As a result, to use Lenin's expression, the state must be smashed; serious reforms in an egalitarian direction will inevitably fail or be reversed. At the other extreme is classical social democracy which viewed state apparatuses as basically class neutral and regarded class structure as simply one among a variety of obstacles to be overcome. Popular mobilization, particularly when organized through a coordination of the labor movement and socialist parties, had the potential to gradually reform capitalism in a radically egalitarian direction through social democratic state policies. Between these extremes are a varietry of theoretical and political positions which see the constraints on radical change imposed by the capitalist state as variable, both in terms of the kinds of changes they permit and the extent to which struggles can transform the constraints themselves. The "contradictory functionality" of the state creates a complex, variable political space within which egalitarian, democratic, and even emancipatory politics can be pursued.
The central task of this seminar, then, is to explore a range of theoretical and empirical issues that bear on the problem of understanding ssuch possibilities for radical, egalitarian politics in capitalist societies. Above all we will focus on the problem of the complex interconnections between class, the economy, and the state. To develop the theoretical tools to approach these issues we will have to grapple with some fairly abstract of conceptual questions: what does it mean to say that the state has a "class character"? What is the difference between an external constraint on state actions imposed by class relations and an internal institutionalization of class constraints within the state itself? What does it mean to describe the state as having "autonomy" -- relative, potential, limited or absolute? The seminar, however, will not primarily grapple with these issues at a purely abstract conceptual level. Rather, in most of the sessions we will focus on specific historical/empirical problems through which we will refine the conceptual tools and build our theoretical understanding.
Sociology 929. Seminar in Class Analysis and historical Change: Envisioning Real Utopias
(2003 Syllabus) (2003 course materials) (Berkeley seminar series 2007) (Syllabus 2008) (2008 Course page) ( Syllabus 2013 2013 Course Page )
This seminar explores the range of of problems in the Real Utopias Project (see above). Some of the sessions will examine abstract theoretical models of "real utopian" alternatives to existing institutions and discuss both the normative rationales for these models and the sociological and economic issues in their feasibility. Other sessions will examine actual experiments that have occurred in various places. Specific topics will include: market socialism; universal basic income; experiments in deliberative democracy; associative democracy; egalitarian capitalism; the kibbutz; alternative proposals for producer cooperatives and other forms of worker ownership.
Sociology 929. Seminar in Class Analysis and historical Change: Alternative Foundations of Class Analysis (2001 syllabus) (2006 Syllabus) (course website)
The concept of class is one of the most contested concepts within sociology. Sometimes this is just a question of how the word class is being used, but behind the alternative uses of the term there often lurks deeper theoretical disagreements about how best to understand the underlying nature of economic inequality in contemporary societies. This seminar will explore in a systematic and rigorous manner the full range of alternative conceptualizations of class. The focus will be on contemporary approaches, although there will be some attention to classic statements. The course will give students an opportunity both to gain a deeper understanding of the substantive issues around the analysis of class, but also to engage in a very fine-grained manner the problem of carefully defining concepts. Sociologists often take a quite casual attitude towards the problem of concept-formation. While they may worry quite a bit about the theoretical arguments that link concepts together, much less attention is often paid to the abstract definitions of the concepts themselves.
Sociology 929. Seminar in Class Analysis and historical Change: The Social Economy (2010: Basic course description) (course website) (Seminar Readings)
Economic activities are organized in four primary ways in contemporary societies: through capitalist markets, by the state, within the family, and in the “social economy.” The social economy is the least familiar of these forms and has received the least systematic treatment by sociologists and economists. Indeed, the term itself is not yet standard in theoretical discussions of economic forms, and so a variety of other terms are sometimes used to tap into the same general empirical domain: the solidarity community, the community economy, the nonprofit sector, the third sector, the citizen’s economy. Negatively defined, these are economic activities that are not oriented to maximizing profits and not organized by the state or the family. Positively they are economic activities oriented to meeting individual and collective needs and organized through various kinds of voluntary association within communities. This seminar will explore both theoretically and empirically the problem of the social economy.
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